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Tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion is widespread in the Americas. In addition to direct tobacco advertising, it includes promotion of brand logos on t-shirts, caps, stores and cars, sponsorship of sporting or arts events, "power walls" of cigarette packages at point of sale, giveaways of products and portrayal of smoking in movies.

ARTICLE 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) requires parties to the treaty to prohibit all tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship. Here's why.

The brand switching argument

Tobacco companies claim that promotion does not stimulate demand for cigarettes and is targeted solely at current smokers to encourage brand switching.

This claim is untenable. Tobacco monopolies advertise cigarettes where there is no competition for customers. And only 10% of smokers switch brands in any given year, and most switch within a brand category (for example, Marlboro to Marlboro Lights). By this reasoning, based on advertising expenditures in the US, tobacco companies are actually losing hundreds of advertising dollars for every switcher they attract.

Emerson Foote, former CEO and president of McCann-Erickson, one of the world's largest advertising agencies and which has handled millions of dollars in tobacco accounts, further clarified the ridiculousness of the brand switching claim:

"In recent years the cigarette industry has been artfully maintaining that cigarette advertising has nothing to do with total sales. Take my word for it, this is complete and utter nonsense. The advertisers know it is nonsense, the industry knows it is nonsense, and I suspect, the public knows it is nonsense. I am always amused by the suggestion that advertising, a function which has been shown to increase consumption with virtually every other product, somehow miraculously fails to work for tobacco products." (Journal of the American Medical Association, 1981; 245: 1667-1668)

The real purpose and impact of advertising

One of the primary aims of tobacco advertising is to attract new customers. Almost all of the tobacco industry's new customers are youth. In public, tobacco companies deny that they target new, young smokers. In private, they quite candidly admit that "starters" and youth are critical to the continued survival of the industry. "Marlboro's biggest source of smokers continues to be smokers with "no previous brand," roughly half of whom are starting smokers."

Studies show that advertising expenditures are linked to overall consumption, that advertising influences smoking initiation and that the elimination of tobacco advertising reduces tobacco consumption.