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Tobacco industry targeting of health-conscious youth with ‘lighter’ cigarettes: the case of Singapore

Abstract

Background Despite Singapore’s strict tobacco control policies, smoking rates have not decreased since 2004. We examined the primary targets, motivations and strategies behind targeted marketing activities in Singapore from the tobacco industry’s perspective to understand how tobacco companies continue to target people in their marketing.

Methods Snowball search in the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library for documents covering the industry’s targeted marketing activities in Singapore. Information from the documents was subsequently triangulated with market data obtained from the Euromonitor Passport database, analysed for trends by tar segment and data from cigarette packs purchased from Singapore retailers, analysed in terms of product positioning.

Results In the 1970s and 1980s, as young people in Singapore became more health-conscious, tobacco companies positioned ‘light’ cigarettes for growth in the 1990s. Many of these ‘lights’ contained similar tar and nicotine levels as regular brands; they were only light in their branding. In the 1990’s, ‘lights’ became more popular in Singapore and this demand was largely youth driven. Into the 2010s, while the low tar (<6 mg) segment comprised only a small portion of Singapore’s cigarette market, most cigarette variants were marketed as ‘lighter’ or as having harm reductive benefits to appeal to more health-conscious people.

Conclusions The differentiation of ‘lighter’ cigarettes remains an important marketing tool for tobacco companies amidst Singapore’s strict regulations. Legislation to remove all remaining avenues for tobacco companies to make harm reduction claims on their products, explicit or implicit, coupled with improving health literacy and exposing industry deception, could help to further bring down smoking prevalence in Singapore.

  • tobacco industry documents
  • tobacco industry
  • advertising and promotion
  • priority/special populations
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