Local News

Fighting a Marketing Machine

Posted March 23, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— Many health educators heaved sighs of relief when the Liggett tobacco company admitted this week that cigarette manufacturers have been aggressively marketing to kids. Still, they know the battle to keep kids and cigarettes apart is far from over.

Approximately 3,000 U.S. kids start smoking every day.

Lisa Poole, a volunteer with the American Lung Association, goes into third grade classrooms, talking to kids about why they shouldn't smoke.

But she says the kids well understand smoking can make them sick and lead to cancer. Still, in a couple years, many of them will light up.

Poole and others like her are campaigning with talk and videos while the tobacco companies use cartoon characters, ads focused on adventure, and merchandise tie-ins, some of them free.

The teens are quick to explain that it's fun to collect the clothing emblazoned with favorite brands, to save coupons for the jacket or hat.

Other tobacco companies have denied Liggett's assertions, saying they do not market to children.

Poole says she does not understand how tobacco company executives, many of them parents, can sleep at night.

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Tobacco has been a linchpin of the state's economy, providing income for many a farm family and city tobacco factory worker.

It has also been an income stream for the state's medical community. North Carolina's annual medical bills attributable to smoking is put at $450 million. If related items, such as days missed from work, are included as well, the total hits $1.7 billion.