The tobacco industry has a history of targeting different groups of people with focused marketing tactics. These marketing tactics are used across commercial tobacco products to target various groups. A 2022 report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids stated that, in total, major tobacco companies spend over $25 million a day to market their products. Many of those dollars are used to directly impact youth use of tobacco products through recognition, marketing that appeals to youth and the push of flavored of commercial tobacco products.

In addition to the pressure the tobacco industry applies through targeted marketing, youth that live in rural places, specifically male youth face cultural pressures to engage in smokeless tobacco product use. In 2019, a study looked at overall rates of smokeless tobacco products in high school students. High school boys use smokeless tobacco products at five times the rate of their female counterparts. In rural communities, high school students use smokeless tobacco products at twice the rate of high school students in urban areas.

Over the last 24 years, the amount of money spent marketing smokeless tobacco products has quadrupled. The tobacco industry has created packaging for harmful products that contain depictions of hunters, cowboys and race car drivers, with the intent to appeal specifically to male youth in rural communities by associating smokeless tobacco product use with a masculine identity. Additionally, the tobacco industry financially invests in rural communities by sponsoring important community-wide events like rodeos.

The tobacco industry tailors its marketing of smokeless tobacco products in rural communities based on cultural norms. When the FDA was developing their Real Cost campaign, they specifically studied use of smokeless tobacco products among male youth in rural communities. They found that male youth in rural communities have strong community ties and value their relationships with important role models in their life like coaches and family members. If valued community members and adult male role models use smokeless tobacco products, male youth who hold these adults in high esteem are more likely to use smokeless tobacco products.

Addressing Unjust Conditions in Rural Communities

A just society ensures that no one is repeatedly exposed to things that we know are harmful. Youth in rural communities face societal pressures to use smokeless tobacco products due to the flood of tobacco industry advertisements in their communities and the cultural norms which are exploited by the tobacco There are several important and effective strategies that we can implement to protect young people in rural communities from the harmful smokeless tobacco products sold for profit.

Raising the price of commercial tobacco products is one effective policy, system, and environmental (PSE) change strategy which prevents youth from starting to use harmful tobacco products, helps adults be successful in ending their dependence on nicotine, and can reduce health disparities. Studies have shown that youth are particularly price sensitive, meaning that they are greatly influenced by the price of tobacco products. Some of the lowest prices for commercial tobacco products are found in rural communities in the United States. In 2018, the tobacco industry spent just over 60% of its smokeless tobacco marketing expenditures on promotional allowances and price discounts. The tobacco industry does this to keep their prices low and get around good regulation. At the local level, many communities can still find ways to increase the price of deadly tobacco products with local strategies such as: implementing or strengthening minimum price laws and limiting coupon redemption and other promotions.

Another way to protect people in rural communities is to eliminate flavored tobacco products, including mint and menthol flavors, which the tobacco industry pushes to some groups. Limiting the tobacco company’s ability to market their products with flavoring is a strategy which continues to gain traction across the country and world, and important steps are being taken to remove menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the market. We know that when some flavored commercial tobacco products are removed from the market, youth will switch to other flavored products. To protect people living in rural communities, we can ensure that this does not happen by restricting the sale of ALL flavored tobacco products (cigars, smokeless, e-cigarettes) and all flavors (including mint and menthol).

Both increasing the price of tobacco products and restricting the sale of flavored tobacco products can both implemented in communities with the establishment of a local tobacco retail license. A tobacco retail license allows for implementation of additional public health strategies which can limit tobacco companies’ ability to market commercial smokeless tobacco products to young people. These include:

    • Limiting the density of commercial tobacco retailers
    • Limiting the proximity of commercial tobacco retailers to places such as schools or parks
    • Setting a minimum floor price for smokeless tobacco products
    • Restricting the types of businesses that can sell commercial tobacco products
    • Restricting product placement and packaging

For more information on the PSE strategies mentioned above visit:

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