Tobacco Giant's "School Of Cool" Recruits Young Smokers
British American Tobacco (BAT) executives gather today to celebrate a "good year" at their annual shareholders' meeting in London. But health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) believes the company is profiting from a new generation of young smo
British American Tobacco (BAT) executives gather today to celebrate a "good year" at their annual shareholders' meeting in London. But health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) believes the company is profiting from a new generation of young smokers, recruited by global use of radical "buzz marketing" techniques.
According to BAT's own publicists, BAT has promoted its "Lucky Strike" brand through a strategy "to re-launch and grow the brand by targeting the underground youth community - a community that is left of centre, which sets the trends rather than follows them." 
Globally, BAT links their brands to sporting events, celebrity artists, movie stars and even sponsors music festivals and parties as a way to glamorise their product. Health charity ASH today published You've got to be kidding - How BAT promotes its brands to young people around the world. Compiling evidence from around the world the research records:
-- In London Fashionable bars in Hoxton frequented by celebrities and trend setters have deals selling only Lucky Strike
-- In Europe Commissioning trend setting artists Julian Opie and others to create BAT branded images
-- In Asia Sponsoring Nepal's national cricket team and engaging a Bollywood star as brand ambassador for the John Players fashion range
-- In Africa and South America Organising youth oriented parties and music events
-- Online and around the world BAT's Argentinean Lucky Strike website offers free downloads. Ostensibly "User Generated Content" promotes BAT brands on You Tube and Flickr.
The success of the strategy is illustrated by the flagship "Lucky Strike" brand which has become an iconic cigarette brand for UK youth without any conventional advertising. The report shows how BAT marketing advisers execute promotions which are at odds with BAT's claimed policy on youth smoking. Precise tactics vary according to local market needs. In Nigeria single cigarettes are sold outside schools along with children's sweets and in other countries they target young trend setters they call "Cosmocrats"
BAT, the world's second largest tobacco company, holds around 15% of the global cigarette market selling 850 billion cigarettes in 190 countries. The industry's business model is such that millions of smokers who die from smoking related diseases need to be replaced by loyal new customers but past youth oriented marketing has been so damaging to the industry that BAT now has a disclaimer on their website suggesting that they only target young people over the age of 18. 
"We view youth smoking as a critical issue in today's society, and we fully support laws and regulations on a minimum age for buying tobacco products, and penalties for retailers who break the law. Our company policy worldwide is not to market to anyone under 18 years old - or older, if the law in a particular country sets the age higher." 
However campaigners fear a sleight of hand. ASH Director Deborah Arnott said,
"Who are they kidding? The days of using cartoon characters to sell to teenagers are long gone. BAT understands that if you want to sell to 14 year olds you have to act like you're aiming at 17 year olds. That is the heart of their whole school-of-cool approach."
Marketing expert Mike Welsh, Managing Director of the agency Claydon Heeley agrees.
"If you really want to create a buzz for your brand in the youth counter culture, find yourself a bad boy pop star, give him your product and line up your favourite paparazzo,"
The PR men do not appear too worried about the values they align their products with. A BAT billboard in Santiago proclaims, "When women say 'no' they mean 'maybe'. When they say 'maybe', watch out."
Dr Douglas Bettcher, Director, World Health Organisation's Tobacco Free Initiative welcomed the report's contribution to work on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control:
"The authors have compiled a compelling dossier on youth oriented tobacco marketing. Tobacco use is still the leading preventable cause of death in the world, with 5 million deaths a year. The tobacco industry continues to market its products aggressively in all parts of the world in an effort to maintain present smokers and attract new ones, especially among young people. The measures in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, such as advertising, promotion and sponsorship bans are cost-effective, and have proven to work. Countries need to implement them to reduce tobacco-related disease and death, and to prevent people from starting this deadly and addictive habit."
 South African marketing company Ikineo, cited in the ASH report "You've got to be kidding"
 Financial information on BAT cited in the report with detailed sources including BAT, CNN and Answers.com.