Big Tobacco’s Stealth Tactics and the Pellet Technology

Well, if you think that the anti-tobacco lobby has won the war, think again. Do the Wall Street charts show a downtrend – I don’t think so. It’s true that conventional advertising for cigarettes through magazines and billboards is down at its all time low, but recent statistics from the Federal Trade Commission indicate that marketing expenditure by the tobacco industry rose by 22% between 2002-2003, from $12 billion to $15 billion. Marketing strategy had just shifted to more niche-oriented methods like direct mail, event promotions and coupon discounts.

20% of women are expected to become smokers by 2025, and despite an official increase in the number of people giving up smoking, nearly 6,000 young people under the age of 18 take up smoking everyday. The new market comprising of young girls for instance, was targeted through these new techniques. The newer brands have alluring names like ‘Dark Mist’, ‘Cool Mint’, ‘Midnight Berry’ – often with strong artificial flavors to mask the harsh taste of tobacco.

The plan is proving successful: while cigarette sales were overall down, R J Reynold’s ‘Camel’ Brand sales were up by nearly 10% over the past year or so. According to a Harvard study looking at documents from within the tobacco industry, research done as early as 1984 indicated that flavored cigarettes were likely to be popular with the younger segment of the population. Subsequently, the industry started working towards developing their product. The development of polymer pellet technology (PPT) in the 1990’s ushered the era of flavored cigarettes with fruity pellets embedded in the filter: with exotic names like ‘Twist’, ‘Mandarin Mint’ and ‘Aegean Spice’. Utilizing the power of targeted marketing through interactive web technology for instance, these products were launched directly in their intended niche markets.

These products have not undergone significantly long clinical testing, but because they mask the natural harsh taste of cigarettes, while delivering the same amount of nicotine, they pose equal if not more health risks, as they would prove more acceptable to a larger segment to start with. However, the fact that their marketing strategy was developed with older children and younger women in mind makes it even worse with its possible reproductive hazards standing the risk of being multiplied.

The FDA’s stance on ‘flavored cigarettes’ remains to be seen, although it could be argued in favor of a ban that both the product and its marketing strategy are unethical. But by then, a market segment would have already have been established using high technology and stealth, and its likely that new regulations would be introduced, but the product line would survive and even possibly thrive.


Harvard School of Public Health Press Release. Internal Documents Show Cigarette Manufacturers Developed Candy-flavored Brands Specifically to Target Youth Market Despite Promises. November 10, 2005. (2006). Tobacco’s Stealth Marketing. YouTube [Video]

Sudip Ghosh, MD

Sudip Ghosh, MD, is a surgeon at the University of Manchester, UK and a medical writer.
See All Posts By The Author