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Expert says tobacco pitched ads to young smokers

Tobacco lawsuits graphic

In this story:

March 9, 1998
Web posted at: 8:53 p.m. EST (0153 GMT)

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) -- A woman juror kept time with the theme from "The Beverly Hillbillies" Monday as an expert in the Minnesota tobacco trial demonstrated how tobacco companies touted smoking to teen-agers.

A 1963 ad showed Jed Clampett and his family riding in their jalopy alongside a Winston cigarette truck. The "Beverly Hillbillies" theme ended with the sponsor's slogan, "Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should."

Cheryl Perry, a University of Minnesota expert on youth smoking, showed the ad and others to demonstrate how "a young person would begin to see smoking, or Winstons, as a part of normal life."

Perry told the jury that the tobacco companies believed attracting young smokers was critical. And she said their advertising played an important part in a youngster's decision to begin smoking.

Joe Camel
Camel cigarette ad  

Perry cited TV commercials featuring "The Flintstones" and the Marlboro man and print ads for Camel cigarettes featuring the cartoon character Joe Camel.

Adolescents are susceptible to advertising that presents smoking as appealing and rewarding, she said. She cited a Kool ad that showed a long-legged, scantily clad woman on a beach gazing into the eyes of a man. Both are smoking Kools.

The ad's appeal to adolescents, Perry said, is that it suggests attractiveness and independence, two primary teen goals. "There's no other time in life when those themes are more important," Perry said.

She said adolescents also are vulnerable to such advertising because they have a poor sense of long-term risk.

Youth smoking critical to companies

Perry was testifying on behalf of the state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota in their lawsuit to recover $1.77 billion they say was spent treating smoking-related illness. They also are seeking punitive damages.

The plaintiffs claim the tobacco industry knew about the dangers of smoking and hid their knowledge while marketing to the young and manipulating nicotine to keep people hooked.

Perry, who helped prepare the 1994 Surgeon General's report on preventing tobacco use among the young, said the significance of adolescent smoking is rising because fewer adults smoke. She said studies have found that only 5 percent of those who smoke began after the age of 24.

Perry said internal tobacco industry documents show that cigarette makers considered underage smokers critical to their future business and tracked the smoking habits of children for decades.

"The tobacco companies viewed smokers under age 18 as what they called replacement smokers; that without them their market would die," Perry said.

"They know that the teen-age years, that's when people begin to smoke and that's when they begin to make their brand selection," said Perry.

R.J. Reynolds document cited

She cited a 1984 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. marketing document specifically addressing the importance of young smokers.

"Today's young adult smoking behavior will largely determine the trend of industry volume over the next several decades," the document said.

The importance of young people to the tobacco industry is not in how many cigarettes they smoke now, Perry said, because their consumption will increase over time.

A 1973 document from Philip Morris Inc. files showed that about 13 percent of those surveyed between the ages of 12 and 17 were smokers and smoked an average of more than 10 cigarettes a day. For those 18 and over, the data showed 18 percent were smokers and smoked an average of more than 20 cigarettes daily. It did not specify who was surveyed.

Perry said that a majority of new smokers are under 18, the legal age for smoking in most states.

She cited a 1994 report that found that of the 3 million people who tried their first cigarette in 1994, 2.5 million were under the age of 18.

Nearly 10 percent started at 12

Perry said 68.7 percent of the current male smokers began before they were 18 and that nearly 10 percent started around the age of 12.

"If someone doesn't start smoking by age 18, the overwhelming majority will not smoke at all," she said.

Meanwhile, the state Court of Appeals temporarily delayed an order that the defendants must hand over an additional 39,000 secret industry documents to the plaintiffs while the appellate court reviews the order.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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