Objective and hypothesis: To determine whether a temporal relationship exists between the advertising and sales of low-tar cigarettes. It was hypothesised that increases in the advertising of low-tar cigarettes would precede increases in sales for these cigarettes.
Methods: The themes of cigarette advertisements were reviewed and coded for 20 low-tar cigarette brands advertised in 13 widely read magazines in the US between 1960 and 1996. These 20 brands represented most of the low-tar cigarette advertisements and cigarette sales from 1967 to 1996. Cigarette sales data were obtained from the 1994 Maxwell report that summarises all cigarette sales from 1925 to 1990. If the advertisement referred to the low-tar attributes of the cigarette advertised, the advertisement was coded as having a low-tar theme and was included in the analysis.
Results: Five different graphical presentations of the relationship between the advertising and sales of the 20 low-tar cigarette brands showed a temporal relationship between low-tar advertising and sales for these brands. This relationship was observed for brands that introduced a low-tar alternative into an existing brand family (eg, Marlboro Light) and for new exclusively low-tar brands (eg, Carlton). Despite large increases in the advertising for the exclusively low-tar brands, sales of these brands remained low relative to sales of the low-tar alternative brands.
Conclusions: Increases in print advertising of 20 of the most popular low-tar cigarette brands were followed by increases in sales for these cigarettes. Despite increases in the advertising of exclusively low-tar brands in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, the sales of these brands never matched the sales of the low-tar alternative brands. This suggests that it may have been easier to get smokers to switch to low-tar brands within a brand family compared with entirely new low-tar brands. Over the past 30 years, the marketing of low-tar cigarettes as a healthier alternative to higher-tar cigarettes has resulted in these brands dominating the market, and may have kept concerned smokers from quitting.
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Funding: This study was funded by grant number 10RT-0132 (to DMB) from the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program.
Competing interests: None.