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USA: the battle for the bars
  1. Scott Goold
  1. InfoImagination, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA; sgoold{at}infoimagination.org

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    There is a growing wave of public support for greater restrictions on smoking in public venues, but of all the different types, exceptions are often made for bars. The usual arguments against smoking bans—fears of decreased profits, the rights of proprietors to choose whether to permit smoking, the rights of individuals to smoke, for example—can be applied equally to bars as to restaurants. We believe other forces are at work.

    Research from a variety of sources shows the tobacco industry has increased its use of bars and clubs as promotional venues (see Tobacco Control 2002;11:94–104). Smoking restrictions in these areas deprive cigarette makers of critical marketing tools in an era when they are blocked from using most forms of mass market advertising. There are economic incentives for bars and nightclubs, but not restaurants, to continue this relationship.

    More importantly, the tobacco industry collaborates with the alternative press to reach young adults who frequent these establishments. It is recognised today that smoking restrictions encourage people to quit—or at least reduce cigarette consumption. As such, public health ordinances present a serious threat to the profit margins of tobacco companies, drinking establishments, and alternative publications.

    Secret internal 1994 documents from RJ Reynolds (RJR) describe the industry’s strategy to use alternative publications to manipulate the preferences and behaviour of American youth. This involves a new marketing ploy referred to as Trend Influence Marketing (TIM). TIM abandons standard advertising campaigns and jumps directly into the arena of trying to “become the trend-maker”. RJR and Philip Morris utilise TIM to increase the popularity of Camel and Marlboro cigarettes, respectively.

    The effectiveness of TIM is not in question, yet this new strategy speaks directly of the continued deception associated with the tobacco industry. We followed the development of TIM in Albuquerque, beginning with the recruitment of clandestine smoking “hipsters” who surreptitiously peddle tobacco products to unsuspecting young adults, and tracked weekly tobacco industry penetration into the market using a free alternative publication.

    By the early 1990s tobacco industry executives were under intense pressure from anti-smoking advocacy groups. Education efforts had increased awareness among consumers about the illusions in traditional tobacco product advertising. Facing declining sales, the industry began looking for a new approach. TIM acknowledges: “Shoving products in the face of the consumer is no longer the successful way to infiltrate this market. Today’s ‘Generation X’ consumer is most influenced by what he or she sees in the hands of friends, not by some stiff riding a horse in a magazine advertisement.”

    The key element of TIM is to conduct the aggressive promotion covertly. “The minute someone blatantly pushes ‘trendy,’ it’s not. Trend Influence Marketing is underground. For this program to be executed properly, we as a marketing company will appear almost invisible. Nothing that takes place can appear sales-oriented and everything we do will be perceived as cool. The objective is to have ‘hipsters’ feel as though smoking Camel is their idea, that they started the trend.”

    In RJR internal papers, executives emphasised that to reach the hipsters we must “speak their language, dress their dress, and walk their walk”. The original RJR strategy is entitled “Camel Club”. KBA Lifestyle Marketing, which developed the programme, added: “We will be recruiting our field marketing staff from the ‘inside’: people who have worked in and around the nightclub/bar business and trendy community.”

    TIM efforts are reinforced by savvy, localised alternative media campaigns. RJR executives noted: “There are many local, national and international newspapers and magazines that hipsters read to follow the trends. These media vehicles are a critical part of the network to help the spread of trends . . . These free periodicals are distributed at most trendy nightclubs and are found in the stores and coffeehouses that the club crowd frequents . . . Aligning Camel with certain publications by way of advertising lends immediate hip credibility to the brand.”


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    This front page comment from the Murdoch press in New York on Mayor Bloomberg’s hard hitting ban on smoking in almost all public places speaks for itself.

    Most US cities have alternative publications. These tabloid-type newspapers are generally free to the public, widely distributed, and published on a weekly basis. Alternative publications are willing partners to this public deception. The Albuquerque publication runs a self promotion claiming their publication is “The Best Paper Money Can’t Buy”. Many young people under age 18 read the weekly editions, as the publication “targets every generation, from the Baby Busters to the Baby Boomers. Distributed throughout Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Corrales, East Mountain, Bernalillo, Placitas, Santa Fe and Los Lunas”. The publication is “available at restaurants, grocery stores, college campuses, select retailers and various downtown locations. Coverage includes politics, humor, film, opinion, music, art and the most comprehensive entertainment guide in Nuevo Mexico. Arriba!”

    There are frequently numerous TIM advertisements per issue. The alternative publication has become the home base for modern tobacco marketing. Although the health community has succeeded in blocking Big Tobacco’s encroachment into traditional markets, we are falling behind the collaborative efforts between the tobacco industry, bar and nightclub owners, and alternative press.

    In the southwest, TIM promotion represents an aggressive form of tobacco marketing. The “iron triangle” formed by the tobacco industry, bar and nightclub lobby, and alternative press forms a powerful political opponent. We must recognise this new threat and confront the growing influence of this coalition in the political arena. The “Battle for Bars” symbolises more than private versus public intervention—it embodies the latest layer of tobacco industry deception where we must fight for the minds and health of America’s young people. For a detailed review of TIM strategy, visit: http://www.tobaccofreedom.org/issues/specials/alibi

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