Marks, Amy Seidel (Graduate School of Business, UCT)
SUBMISSION IN SUPPORT OF THE TOBACCO PRODUCT CONTROL AMENDMENT BILL
19 October 1998
Dr Amy Seidel Marks
Senior Lecturer, Marketing
Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town
1. This submission is based upon expertise in marketing and on research into tobacco usage attitudes and behaviours. I am a South African citizen and since 1989 have been Senior Lecturer in marketing at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town. I teach Masters in Business Administration students (MBAs) marketing management, consumer behaviour, advertising and promotion, and new product development. These subjects have particular bearing on the marketing of tobacco products and I will speak today on the basis of 23 years of experience in these areas.
For the past five years I have supervised a research project investigating how tobacco is viewed and used by black South African women. This has been funded by public health agencies such as the S. A. Medical Research Council and the International Development Research Council. We are currently in the third phase of research and in the midst of conducting in-depth interviews with 240 women in Khayelitsha about their usage of cigarettes and snuff. The fourth and final phase of the research will involve interviewing a larger sample of 1200 women next year in order to expand upon the findings to date.
My expertise in marketing has been recognised by members of the tobacco industry as well as by experts in public health. For example, one of the masters students in the marketing course I taught this year is a product manager for Rembrandt’s Dunhill cigarettes. He made a particular point of commenting on the relevance of the course to his job and to that of other marketers in his company.
I wish to put on record that I will receive no monetary payment or any other form of remuneration for my submission today. I am acting as a free agent and presenting my own beliefs and convictions as a marketing academic and professional.
2. The Tobacco Product Control Amendment Bill is needed to curb the uptake of smoking and tobacco usage in South Africa, particularly by children and youth, in order to curb an epidemic of crisis proportions. Epidemiology experts estimate that 9% of all those alive today on the planet (500 million people) will die prematurely from tobacco usage through tobacco related causes such as heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, chronic respiratory disease and other cancers. This is because tobacco is the only legal product that, when used as intended by its manufacturers, kills 1 out of every 2 regular users. Even though the majority of regular smokers want to quit, their ability to do so is limited because the nicotine in tobacco is addictive. The US Surgeon General has said that nicotine addiction makes quitting smoking as hard as quitting heroin and cocaine.
By 2020, if tobacco usage continues to increase at the current rate, it will become the leading cause of death in the world. Masses of South Africans alive today will be killed by a product that causes an addiction that is hard to break free of. Their deaths and the terrible human suffering involved are entirely preventable if they do not use the product in the first place. Why are the citizens of this and every other nation not arising to stop the propagation of an addictive drug that will needlessly kill one out of every 11 people before their time? What is the reason for the peculiar lack of awareness and response to this global pandemic of humanity’s own making?
3. A major reason for human acceptance of tobacco and passivity about its deadliness is the pervasive and powerful impact of tobacco marketing. Through the steady and often brilliant use of marketing, tobacco companies have made smoking a socially acceptable and desirable behaviour to billions of people in the twentieth century and are poised to extend that success to billions more by the first half of the twenty-first century. Marketing of tobacco by the industry has also turned hundreds of millions into tobacco users and addicts. Could this have happened without the skilful use of marketing to spread tobacco usage among the masses of humanity? Can anyone argue that tobacco would be a pandemic today without tobacco marketing? The Tobacco Bill seeks to curb the epidemic in South Africa through curbing some of the marketing causing it such as tobacco advertising, and sponsorships. This will help retard the rate at which South African children and youth try tobacco and develop life-long addictions to it. It is to these marketing elements of the bill that I now turn.
4. Tobacco marketing affects children and youth. Although the tobacco industry claims it targets only adults with information about its products so that they can make informed choices about its use, the advertising and promotion of cigarettes is so pervasive and omnipresent in society that children and youth are also reached. Anyone can see this. Children, like the rest of us, are exposed to tobacco marketing messages when they hear ads on the radio, see sports sponsorships on TV, see ads in billboards, movies, newspapers and magazines, see hawkers on the street or walk past promotions in shopping malls, pass cigarette vending machines, and when they look at people wearing cigarette branded clothes. A huge amount of money has created the pervasiveness of tobacco information--almost a quarter of a billion rands (R240 million) is spent on tobacco advertising in South Africa. This money also buys strategic leveraging of tobacco messages, through such things as placing tobacco ads in premium slots like the backs of magazines and front pages of newspapers, making them accessible to children as well as adult readers.
Tobacco companies need to reach young people because most adult smokers start before the age of 18. Their revenues and profits depend on new smokers being created each year to replace those who die and quit. The key source for such new smokers are teenagers. The industry’s own records reveal this:
"Today’s teenagers are tomorrow’s potential regular smokers and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke in their teens…it is during teenage years that first brand choice is made." [Philip Morris marketing document, March 1981
"…if a man has never smoked by age 18, the odds are three-to-one he never will, and by age 24, the odds are twenty-to-one." [RJR marketing document by Burrows, September 1982, in Mangini vs. RJR, p. 19]
Although tobacco control efforts have lead tobacco marketers to be more cautious in how they appear to be targeting youth, they nevertheless are impelled to reach teenagers with their marketing and entice significant numbers of them to begin smoking.
5. Tobacco advertising is intended to create new users. The tobacco industry has claimed that it uses advertising only to promote brand switching and maintain market share and not to increase consumption and get new smokers. This does not make common sense.
The idea that the quarter of a billion rands spent in South Africa on tobacco advertising does not reach and influence young people who are the key source of replacement smokers, is illogical. It does not accord with international findings about tobacco industry marketing. For example, data from the US revealed that only 10% of American smokers switch brands. This would not warrant the expenditure of the billions of dollars spent on US tobacco advertising. If the focus were only on reaching 10% of smokers and getting them to switch to another brand of cigarette, it has been estimated that the industry would be spending $345 per switcher in the US—an amount that would make the cost of marketing to such smokers prohibitive. [Roemer, Legislative Action to Combat the World Tobacco Epidemic, 2nd Edition, WHO, p. 24]
Advertising executives, themselves, have rebutted the tobacco industry’s claims not to use advertising to reach new smokers and expand consumption:
"I think it’s incontrovertible, though people argue against it, that advertising products encourages people to use them. The advertising industry believes that for every other product. I don’t see why the rules are different for cigarettes."
David Abbott, a leading British advertising executive [quoted in Roemer, p. 25]
"The cigarette industry has been artfully maintaining that cigarette advertising has nothing to do with total sales…This is the public position of the tobacco industry but I don’t think anyone really believes this. I am not even convinced that competition among brands is the most important purpose of such advertising. I suspect that creating a positive climate of social acceptability for smoking, which encourages new smokers to join the market, is of greater importance to the industry." Emerson Foote, former chairman of the board of the world’s second largest advertising agency based in the US [quoted in Roemer, p. 25]
6. Tobacco advertising communicates that smoking is normal, pervasive and an attractive thing to do. It influences children and youth to smoke and affects them more than adults. Research has found that tobacco ads influence children and youth. Lack of time allows mention of only a few findings:
A recent study in Johannesburg found that a third of the 5 year olds interviewed could identify cigarette brands, and 19% of these children said they would smoke when they grew up.[Birth to 10 Project, MRC] Research has also showed South African children to favour the most heavily advertised brands. This is consistent with US research that has found that 85% of child smokers use the three most advertised brands.[Centre for Disease Control]
This suggests that young people are more influenced by ads than adults, which is born out by a 1994 study reported in the Journal of Marketing that found teenagers to be 3 times more sensitive to cigarette advertising than adults. [Pollay et al., August 1994, pp. 1-16]
Advertisements do not work in isolation from each other or other marketing efforts. They combine with each other and with promotions to create an overall impression that cigarette usage is widespread and widely accepted. The images in many of the cigarette ads prevalent in South Africa today speak to teenagers’ personal and developmental concerns, such as the need for independence (even rebelliousness and non-conformity), self-confidence, and social acceptance, the need to be found sexually appealing, and the need to have fun. (See the attached samples of South African ads.) Tobacco advertising links smoking with achieving these needs and creates the impression that smoking gives one an attractive, sophisticated identity and communicates it to others.
Millions of South African children are exposed to dozens of tobacco ads weekly. Marketing and social science theories of persuasion suggest that they need only a superficial perception of ads in order to be influenced. For example, the "elaboration likelihood model of persuasion" indicates that advertising can have an impact on children, even though they are less able than adults to see and understand factual information in ads, such as the warning labels on tobacco advertisements. The model reveals that even a simple level of attention by a viewer exposes him to peripheral cues such as the colour and imagery in an ad. Superficially viewing an ad tends to lead viewers to evaluate it through their emotions, not through logical analysis. [Belch and Belch, Introduction to Advertising and Promotion, 3rd Edition, p. 178] Multiple exposures to ads communicating the same simple, quickly understood images are what influence the viewer to develop positive attitudes toward a product like cigarettes and be inclined to try it.
Cigarette ads affect young people because they are pervasive, colourful, and strategically placed to be easily seen. They show images of cigarettes in attractive settings, and of attractive, self-confident, happy people that create positive associations with smoking and good feelings about it in the viewer. The wide exposure to tobacco ads by masses of youth creates emotions and meanings that are shared amongst teenagers. These shared meanings then serve to foster peer pressure in favour of tobacco usage.
Nevertheless, the tobacco industry claims that it is not advertising that causes teens to smoke but peer pressure. This is an astonishing claim, given the vast amounts of money that industry spends on advertising. The argument that advertising is not causing people to start smoking is a tactic to deflect attention away from tobacco companies’ efforts to recruit new youth smokers.
Marketing experts acknowledge that one can seldom can determine exactly what the effect of an advertisement really is. The tobacco industry has blown this fact out of proportion to support their need to claim that ads do not cause children to smoke. Every marketer knows that you cannot perfectly predict the exact effect of your ad. In fact, marketing lecturers routinely quote the advertising expert who said: "I know half of my advertising budget is wasted, but I don’t know which half." This is because marketing research technology is not yet exact enough to control for all the factors influencing people and to pinpoint the exact degree to which a specific ad causes its viewers to buy and use the product advertised. Yet, this lack of proof does not stop marketers from advertising, because they know that, overall, advertising works. The tobacco industry has tried to combat government efforts to curb its advertising by disingenuously focussing on the methodological difficulty of proving that specific ads cause people to smoke. It does this in order to deflect attention away from the fact that tobacco companies spend billions of dollars and millions of rands yearly, knowing that tobacco advertising does work and that ads do influence young people to smoke.
Peer pressure is an important influence on youth smokers. However, what is significant here is that tobacco advertising fosters peer pressure by creating positive, shared beliefs and meanings for smoking among teens that lead them to want to smoke so as to communicate an image to others. If we want to minimize the peer pressure to smoke, we need to curb the influence tobacco advertising has on it by curbing that advertising..
7. Sponsorships by tobacco companies are effective methods of advertising to children and youth. An important mechanism through which tobacco companies currently reach young people is the sponsorship of sporting, entertainment and other events. One aspect of sponsorship communications in South Africa is that they do not include the warning labels required on tobacco ads, even though many messages are strikingly similar to tobacco ads. (See the attached ad for the Peter Stuyvesant Music Spectacular.)
Tobacco sponsorship of important events boosts the credibility of tobacco products and their use. Sponsorships associate cigarettes with fun, excitement, exhilarating experiences, social good times and successful, dynamic people. Because sponsored events involve hero personalities such as famous sports people or entertainers, the message implicitly conveyed by tobacco sponsorship is that the heroes endorse smoking and cigarettes. Even when the heroes are mature adults, such as in the case of race car drivers, linking the image of tobacco with a sport that is both adult and youthfully vigorous heightens the impression that smoking is an adult, successful thing to do. Teenagers, who are at the stage of life where they are struggling to define their identities, attain self-confidence and find a place in society, are prone to copy the actions and lifestyles of the sports and entertainment figures they find aspirational. When tobacco companies sponsor sporting and entertainment events, smoking is connected with the lifestyles and images of the heroes of those events. This can only increase the probability that young people experiment with smoking. Eliminating tobacco sponsorship will stop this connection occurring and reduce the propensity of young people to identify smoking with the public figures they want to emulate.
8. Regulations on tobacco marketing are needed in order to stop the industry from distorting and misrepresenting the facts about tobacco. The tobacco industry has latched onto the idea that regulation of its marketing practices will violate freedom of speech. I find this amazing. Any marketing professional knows that freedom of speech in advertising in the media only exists for those who have the economic clout to buy it. That is not true freedom of speech. In fact, tobacco marketing curbs freedom of expression of the truth about tobacco and its use in at least three ways:
Firstly, the messages conveyed in tobacco advertising and sponsorships do not tell the viewer the truth about the most important aspects of the product, namely that it is highly addictive and causes one out two users to die prematurely. Instead tobacco marketing premiers tobacco use as pleasurable and associated with healthy, happy activities—a far cry from the ill health and death that 50% of smokers are headed toward. This distortion of the consequences of smoking prohibit people from making an informed choice about it. Children and youth who face deciding upon a lifetime of addiction when they decide to smoke, are being misguided by tobacco messages showing only good things about the product. The fact that government regulation has forced the industry to put warning labels on its ads does not correct this imbalance, since children and youth are prone to focus on the images in the ads and not the wording and meaning behind such labels.
Secondly, the huge amounts of money spent by tobacco companies to convey this biased message cannot be effectively matched by public health efforts. Those who could present the health facts about tobacco use do not have the economic clout to do so properly. Health promotion messages about the health consequences of tobacco cannot be expected to correct for the years of exposure to pervasive tobacco ads that people have had. Even if tobacco control messages to the amount of R240 million (or matching tobacco industry expenditures in the future) could be pumped into the environment starting from this moment on, it would take years, if not decades, for health promoters to acquire and match the advertising expertise and sophistication of the tobacco companies. In short, the government and tobacco control interest groups do not have the huge amounts of money needed to counter-balance tobacco advertising and sponsorships. Neither does the government, with its obligation to protect the hundreds of thousands who may die of tobacco in the future, have time for the decades of capacity building needed to be able to match the brilliant effectiveness of tobacco marketing.
Thirdly, the tobacco industry has power and position amongst the media and advertising industries that enables it to curb the free flow of information to the public about tobacco health hazards. It has spent decades building its relationships with these industries. Regarding the media, the substantial revenues that newspapers and magazines receive from tobacco advertising and sponsorship promotions have a marked effect on their editorial policies and deter them from publishing material on smoking and health. We need only cite two examples to illustrate the potency of the clout that tobacco wields in curbing freedom of speech:
In November 1997, a Rembrandt Group company, R&R Tobacco, withdrew over R1 million of advertising from The Star in the wake of an editorial that supported the regulation of tobacco advertising. The clear message was that to speak freely and uphold editorial freedom is to lose advertising revenues.
Surveys show that self-censorship on tobacco issues by sections of the SA media occurs. Magazines which carry cigarette advertising are considerably less likely to publish articles on the risks of smoking than are those that do not carry tobacco ads. An editor, explained the need not to offend the tobacco industry as follows: "Who needs somebody you are paying millions of dollars a year to come back and bite you on the ankle?"
In summary, the tobacco industry and others who are dependent on their revenues and profits have vested interests and are committed to distorting the health realities surrounding tobacco. The Tobacco Product Control Amendment Bill is needed to stop the distortion and curb the uptake of smoking and tobacco usage in South Africa, particularly by children and youth.
[Ed note: the pictures of the adverts below are not included.
1. A Peter Stuyvesant advert for the Janet Jackson Concert. The advert was placed in the Saturday Argus on October 3/4 1998. There is a very provocative picture of Janet Jackson and the Peter Stuyvesant logo is in type of the same large size as the name Janet. At a cursory glance it looks like an advertisement for the cigarette, but no warning label was needed by law.
2. A Winfield advert from the Saturday Star on February 1 1997. It says :"no excuses, no explanations, no apologies, not to anyone, not ever!
3. An advert for Rothmans Kingsize from the back page of the Sunday Times Magazine August 9 1998. It says :"Get a taste for London" It shows young people laughing and hugging and looking very trendy, with a British flag in the corner of the page.
4. This advert is from the back page of the UCT rag magazine 1997. It is of students having fun and holding a park bench in the middle of a fountain. They are all smiling, breaking the rules/law and "sharing the feeling - sharing the taste!" The one girl has a pack of cigarettes in her hand and the other is holding her fingers to her mouth as if she had a cigarette there, even though there is no actual cigarette in her hand.]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr Marks’ field of academic and professional expertise includes the effect of marketing on people’s product usage attitudes and behaviour, with a particular focus on public health social marketing. She received her PhD in marketing from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Chicago, USA) where she studied and conducted research under the guidance of world leaders in the field of marketing, such as Professor Philip Kotler. Her PhD thesis focussed on the impact of television programming, including advertising, on people’s health attitudes and prevention behaviours, and won the American Marketing Association’s international award as one of the top three produced in 1987.