Alcohol and tobacco companies have been accused (again) of marketing products toward underage youth. Joe Camel of Camel cigarettes disappeared from advertising almost a decade ago. Yet some tobacco companies continued to find ways to market to, and thus influence, children, and some alcohol companies are doing the same thing.
The R.J. Reynolds tobacco company recently agreed to stop selling flavored cigarettes in the United States with candy-like names and flashy promotional materials (such as scratch-and-sniff samples) “as critics say that they are marketed to youth.” However, Reynolds’ spokesman Frederick McConnell said, “We can still sell flavored cigarettes in the future.” (Perhaps with another youth-targeted advertising campaign?)
Smoking causes serious health problems, but one problem in particular affects youth and has only recently come to light. Public Health Minister Caroline Flint of the United Kingdom recently stated that some teens are smoking cigarettes during pregnancy in order to have babies with low birth weights (assuming that childbirth would be markedly easier with a smaller baby). These teens did not consider the other effects of smoking during pregnancy, such as stillbirth.
Like tobacco companies, alcohol manufacturers can’t be absolved from blame when youth participate in underage consumption. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that in the “15 largest U.S. radio markets, [roughly] 48 percent of alcohol advertisements were placed on programming with disproportionately large youth audiences.”
While youth are constantly exposed to marketing by alcohol and tobacco companies, many youth are unaware of the severity of the consequences related to abusing these substances. Alcohol happens to be the number one drug of choice for American teenagers. Car accidents are the number one killer of teens. When those two facts are combined, one finds that one-third of those deaths are due to alcohol-related accidents.
Adults, consumers, and elected officials may want to take a more serious look at company marketing schemes. While some may be benign, others are causing youth to abuse illegal substances, or conveying the brand recognition that will later result in the purchase and use of these substances. As adults, we can’t expect youth to always make the best decisions. While youth who abuse these substances should learn the costs and consequences of their actions, the same should be true for the companies that push these products on underage youth.