How Big Tobacco Keeps Their Consumers Hooked

Manav Golecha
4 min readOct 26, 2021


It’s a problem that’s difficult to Curb.

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The tobacco industry has a fundamental problem. Two-thirds of long-term smokers will die from smoking-related illnesses, and the others will probably quit.

So they need new people to take up smoking in order to keep selling cigarettes over time.

If you can’t advertise, market, or simply show your products in a store, finding new customers can be tricky. However, the world of social media has offered Big T a plethora of opportunities.

These are their tactics to keep existing smokers hooked and prevent new smokers from leaving.

Subtle Vanity Marketing

Cigarette companies spend billions each year on marketing, even though they cannot directly market.

Let’s look at some stats. The money cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies spent in 2019 on U.S. marketing amounted to:

  • $22.5 million each day
  • $25 for every person (adults and children) in the United States per year
  • $240 per year for each U.S. adult smoker

Research also states that these companies try to appeal to the youth and young adults to smoke by portraying nicotine products as stylish and aspirational in a glossy youth-targeted ad campaign. Despite Instagram’s prohibition on the practice, paying social media influencers to advertise e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches, and tobacco and serve as brand ambassadors.

Sponsoring music and sporting events, including a Formula One e-sports tournament that was streamed live on YouTube and accessible to minors.

How Does the Marketing Travel?

This video by The Guardian shows an influencer’s contract with one of the tobacco companies. They order her when to post, how many times, and what hashtags to use. These are not sponsored posts but are an industry-wide secret campaign to normalize smoking and make it cool again.

Humans have an inherent need for social validation. They want to do what’s cool and make them go up in social status.

Here’s how Big T plays to that psyche.


JUUL hired 80 lobbyists to battle state-level legislation that would have prevented youth use at the same time it claimed to be working to reduce vaping among young people.

On a federal level, the firm spent roughly $2 million lobbying between Congress and the federal government in the first half of 2019.

Tobacco corporations use price cuts to offset tobacco taxes, which have been successful in reducing tobacco use, particularly among the youth.

Design & Flavor

There are new products flooding the market with a sleek USB flash drive design being promoted as high-end lifestyle products, often portrayed as harmless.

Sweet and fruity flavors such as cotton candy and gummy bear are widely available. Some studies have identified around 15000 flavors available on the market, which is quite appealing to the young and naïve.

Targeting various groups

This also has a snowball effect: when one person is doing it, others want to do it too.

Women: They target women with the theme of social desirability. Scroll on Instagram and you will find an endless stream of slim, attractive, and athletic models with a cigarette or JUUL giving talks on freedom and independence.

African Americans: African American communities have been bombarded with direct-mail promotions of campaigns that use pop culture to promote menthol cigarettes.

Homeless: According to research, the tobacco industry has marketed cigarettes to the homeless and seriously mentally ill, part of its “downscale” market. They have also developed relationships with homeless shelters and advocacy groups, gaining positive media coverage and political support.

Targeting Developing Countries

So, where do you look for millions of people who haven’t been exposed to anti-smoking campaigns?

Big T is focusing on developing nations, in order to move the epidemic away from developed countries and toward developing countries.

They are engaging in all the activities that are forbidden in the United Kingdom and the United States. They advertise the market to children and present their items in locations where consumers will see them.

They aim to make those things appear fashionable and highly western in order to entice individuals to take up smoking.

Why Is This a Problem?

Picture this.

There’s this thing that exposes you to a spectrum of diseases that could also ultimately lead to cancer.

Growing children who want to look shiny get attracted by these dirty marketing techniques and buy themselves a vape. Women who are low on self-esteem could scroll on social media, seeing other beautiful women talk about independence with a cigarette in their hand. They’d want to appear like that too.

The worst part? It’s addictive. Once you’re in a loop, it’s difficult to get back. And that’s exactly how the business thrives.



Manav Golecha

Your accountability buddy.