Good morning and welcome to the place where sunrises feel at home. On today’s menu we will be featuring a montage of dawn delights from the skies over Palm Desert, California. I journey there once or twice a year for a little rest and relaxation (let’s just say I’ve seen veals more active) and bring my Canon Digital Rebel for some photo fun. This is the true desert, just how Moses first saw it. Palm trees, waterfalls, flowers blooming year round, mountains that change color throughout the day topped off by long green fairways. Ah, the natural beauty of the desert.
And the desert it is smoking hot, which brings us to today’s subject. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found a smoking gun. They claim that tobacco companies deliberately changed the menthol levels in cigarettes depending upon who they were marketing them to – lower levels for young smokers who preferred the milder brands and higher levels to “lock in lifelong adult smokers.” The researchers reviewed industry documents dating back decades on product development and on strategic plans for menthol products. It’s your basic let’s hook em while they’re young.
The study says the tobacco companies researched how controlling menthol levels could increase sales among specific groups. Milder brands with lower menthol levels appealed to younger smokers. The milder products were then marketed to young consumers as the minty flavor would be more appealing to the younger lungs. Virginia Slims had a slogan back in 1968. “You’ve come a long way, baby.” This ad campaign was directed at young women. Within the next two years smoking among girls ages 12 and up increased over 110%.
One document from R.J. Reynolds noted that all three major menthol brands “built their franchise with YAS (younger adult smokers) … using a low-menthol product strategy. However, as smokers acclimate to menthol, their demand for menthol increases over time.” So it’s a menthol health issue. In 1962 Winston’s cigarette “spokespersons” were the Flintstones as they were sponsored by Winston at that time. After Wilma became pregnant though, the Flintstones was sponsored by Welch’s Grape Juice. Is it just me, or did Pebbles look an awful lot like Barney Rubble?
In 1987, R.J. Reynolds marketed low-level menthol varieties to persuade consumers to switch from regular brands and to recruit new, young smokers, noting: “First-time smoker reaction is generally negative. … Initial negatives can be alleviated with a low level of menthol.” Either that or just start them off with chocolate cigarettes and they can just practice blowing chocolate smoke rings.
The researchers concluded that Philip-Morris USA used a two-pronged strategy to increase Marlboro’s share in the menthol market by targeting young adults and older smokers. Marlboro Milds were introduced nationally in 2000 and became popular among young smokers. Then there were the Marlboro Extra Milds for the extra young smoker. The entry of that product coincided with an increase in the menthol level of the regular Marlboro Menthol brand intended for older smokers. The milds were responsible for almost 80 percent of the company’s menthol-category growth that year. Makes me want to grab my lighter at head out to Marlboro country.
Speaking of Marlboro, there have been many “Marlboro Men.” In 1992 “Marlboro Man” Wayne McLaren, who was dying of lung cancer, made an appearance at the Phillip Morris annual shareholder’s meeting to ask the company to voluntarily limit its advertising. Phillip Morris Chairman Michael Miles responded “We are certainly sorry to hear about your medical problems. Without knowing your medical history, I don’t think I can comment further.” The longtime “Marlboro Man” died three months later. Another “Marlboro Man,” David McLean died of lung cancer in 1995. Which begs the question, where are the Marlboro women?
“For decades, the tobacco industry has carefully manipulated menthol content not only to lure youth but also to lock in lifelong adult customers,” said Howard Koh, a co-author of the paper. William Phelps, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest tobacco company, said the study’s conclusions are not supported by the facts cited. One 1944 print ad for Philip Morris cigarettes claimed that “When smokers changed to Philip Morris, every case of nose or throat irritation–due to smoking–either cleared up completely or definitely improved.” How dare they call them “cancer sticks.”
“At our company, our marketing goal is to find ways to effectively and responsibly connect brands with adults who smoke,” Phelps said. “Those brands are designed to meet the diverse preferences of adults who smoke. What we disagree with are the authors’ conclusion that menthol levels were manipulated to gain market share among adolescents.” I say don’t let those wacky warning labels about cancer and emphysema ruin your day. Light up and leave me alone. In 1934, Camel cigarette ads advised you to “Smoke as many as you want. They never get on your nerves.”
Greg Connolly, one of the report’s co-authors, said the tobacco industry was careful not to talk about adolescents in the documents he reviewed, mostly from the ’80s and ’90s. “They talk about young smokers. For me, that’s just a euphemism for going after adolescent, first-time smokers,” Connolly said. An excess of 400 million cigarettes are smoked in the United States each year. This would translate into more than 23 million gallons of nicotine. What a pretty sight that would be.
Congress is considering legislation to give the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco. And while the bill would ban fruit and candy flavorings, it would allow the continued sale of menthol-flavored brands. The advocates are pressing for an amendment to ban menthol. Brands marketed as menthol cigarettes make up about 27 percent of the U.S. cigarette market. While overall cigarette sales have declined, sales of menthol cigarettes have been stable in recent years. What I love about menthol is the mint like flavor that improves the perceived taste and lessens the impact of nicotine’s bitter flavor and scent. Maybe that’s why smokers of menthol cigarettes find it harder to quit. Personally, I’d rather fight than switch.
That’s our dog and pony show for today. Coming up on Friday we are going to switch gears and go to the evening skies as an outstanding sunset blew into town Monday night. So enjoy the desert rises, the last week of July and the warm summer days. Later, USA fans.