Follow the money: a closer look at US tobacco industry marketing expenditures


Levy, D.T., Liber, A.C., Cadham, C., Sanchez-Romero, L.M., Hyland, A., Cummings, K.M., Douglas, C.E., Meza, R., Henriksen, L. (2022). Follow the money: a closer look at US tobacco industry marketing expenditures. Tobacco Control, [Published online, doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2021-056971].


Introduction: While much of the concern with tobacco industry marketing has focused on direct media advertising, a less explored form of marketing strategy is to discount prices. Price discounting is important because it keeps the purchase price low and can undermine the impact of tax increases.

Methods: We examine annual US marketing expenditures from 1975 to 2019 by the largest cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies as reported to the Federal Trade Commission. We consider three categories: direct advertising, promotional allowances and price discounting. In addition to considering trends in these expenditures, we examine how price discounting expenditures relate to changes in product prices and excise taxes.

Results: US direct advertising expenditures for cigarettes fell from 80% of total industry marketing expenditures in 1975 to less than 3% in 2019, while falling from 39% in 1985 to 6% in 2019 for smokeless tobacco. Price discounting expenditures for cigarettes became prominent after the Master Settlement Agreement and related tax increases in 2002. By 2019, 87% of cigarette marketing expenditures were for price discounts and 7% for promotional allowances. Smokeless marketing expenditures were similar: 72% for price promotions and 13% for promotional allowances. Price discounting increased with prices and taxes until reaching their currently high levels.

Conclusions: Between 1975 and 2019, direct advertising dramatically fell while price discounting and promotional expenditures increased. Local, state and federal policies are needed that apply non-tax mechanisms to increase tobacco prices and restrict industry contracts to offset industry marketing strategies. Further study is needed to better understand industry decisions about marketing expenditures.