The Tobacco Industry

The tobacco industry just loves college students. They put ads in your magazines, hold promotions where you hang out and sponsor concerts you pay to see. Wanna know why? Bottom line is, you, along with every up-and-coming generation, are the key to their future success.

The proof can be found in Big Tobacco’s own words. As far back as 1984, an executive at R.J. Reynolds said: “Younger adult smokers are the only source of replacement smokers…If younger adults turn away from smoking, the industry must decline, just as a population which does not give birth will eventually dwindle.”

Want more proof that the tobacco industry targets college students? Check out these facts.

  • After the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement that ended Big Tobacco’s ability to market directly to youth 17 and younger, the industry intensified its marketing efforts towards you, the 18-24 year old.1
  • Tobacco companies promote their products in bars because of the impact of social influence on behavior. Since bars are considered “smoker-friendly” young adults are more inclined to smoke in bars than elsewhere, in order to fit in with the social context. The tobacco industry understands that bars are one of the places that young people might take up smoking (Katz, 2002).1
  • The third largest cigarette company in the United States, Brown & Williamson, spends $30 million per year on bar promotions.2
  • Bar owners may receive thousands of dollars from tobacco companies to hold in-bar promotions where their representatives give away lots of free stuff like samples and promotional items. Plus get this, tobacco companies bribe bartenders to participate by offering them free trips, parties and other perks.4
  • Big Tobacco is big on sponsoring musical events they know college students are into. During 1999, Philip Morris sponsored 117 events at bars and nightclubs featuring groups like Cheap Trick, Violent Femmes, Los Lobos, and Smash Mouth.2 The KOOL MIXX 2004 was a DJ competition that gave out a $10,000 cash prize. Also sponsored by KOOL was the New Jazz Philosophy Tour, which, in 2006, featured Busta Rhymes, Miri Ben-Ari, and The Roots.
  • The tobacco industry spends major bucks on advertising in “alternative” papers aimed at 18-24 year olds. An internal document from RJ Reynolds states that the alternative weeklies were an ideal way to reach and influence “Generation X” consumers because they are typically distributed for free at nightclubs and coffeehouses and are read by young “hipsters” and the club crowd.2
  • One study showed that 1 in 10 college students have gone to an industry-sponsored party.3

It’s pretty clear that Big Tobacco isn’t going to give up on college students. So it’s up to us to tell them where to go. For some ideas on how to help combat the industry’s trend toward recruiting the college population, check out the links below:


  1. College Tobacco Prevention Resources. (n.d.). Tobacco Marketing to College-Aged Youth. Retrieved on June 28, 2013 from the World Wide Web at
  2. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. (2005 August). Tobacco Company Marketing to College Students Since the Multistate Settlement Agreement Was Signed. Retrieved on June 28, 2013 from the World Wide Web at
  3. Szabo, Liz. (2004 December). New Study: Tobacco Sponsored College Parties Encourage Students to Start Smoking. Retrieved on June 28, 2013 from the World Wide Web at
  4. Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Program. (2012). Tobacco Times: College-Aged Yourth Mean Big Business for the Industry. Fall 2012:2. Retrieved from June 28, 2013 from the World Wide Web at