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Happy holidays from Big Tobacco: Five of this year’s seasonal marketing pushes

This year’s holiday greetings from tobacco companies come with party tips, free gift tags, DIY decoration ideas and, of course, lots of coupons for tobacco.

Even when they are wrapped in holiday cheer, tobacco coupons make lousy gifts. The industry has doubled annual investment in coupons, which together with discounts make up more than 86 percent of its entire marketing expenditure in one year. It isn’t hard to see why Big Tobacco invests so much in slashing prices: the smoking rate is almost three times higher among household earning less than $20,000 a year compared to those that earn more than $100,000, and higher tobacco prices would help drive down the smoking rate.

Take a look at five holiday marketing pushes that arrived in mailboxes and inboxes this season.

Swisher Sweets

The maker of Swisher Sweets flavored cigar products sent a holiday message filled with links to coupons, a chance to win a t-shirt and product updates, including the roll out of a limited edition caramel peach flavored cigar called “Sticky Sweets.” Swisher International recently received a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for illegally selling flavored products that they label as cigars or little cigars that are actually cigarettes.

Sticky sweets is back for the holidays
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Natural American Spirit

The only cigarette brand that makes the claims “natural,” “organic” and “additive-free” wishes people “peace, love and happiness” (but certainly not health) in its holiday card featuring employees in festive hats. A less feel-good message: Truth Initiative research has shown that the brand’s misleading claims have led nearly 64 percent of Natural American Spirit smokers to inaccurately believe the cigarettes are less harmful than other brands.

Peace love and happiness american spirit ad
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L&M cigarettes paired its seasonal coupon offers with “tips for making lasting memories.” An example of a tip from the Philip Morris brand: “Especially during the festive holiday season, snapping photos on your phone is a must. Why not share your favorites? After your next get-together, start a group text to swap your pics so everyone can relive their favorite moments.”

Share the love L&M ad
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Red Seal

Red Seal smokeless tobacco sent people free gift tags as part of its holiday card. A tractor in twinkling lights, coupons for $1.50 off any product and a message of “Merry Christmas from the Heartland” accompany the tags (along with a warning about gum disease and tooth loss).

Red Seal christmas ad
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Virginia Slims

This seasonal e-mail from Virginia Slims, a brand that has long targeted women, includes directions for making “festive” wreaths and candle holders. The “Holiday DIY” feature appears alongside coupon offers and “fashion wallpapers” that can be downloaded.

Virgina slims New Holiday DIY ad
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Discounts and coupons threaten to counteract the impact of raising the price of tobacco products, which is one of the most effective ways to cut the smoking rate, especially among young people. For example, raising the cost of cigarettes to $10 per pack—the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommended price—would result in 4.8 million fewer smokers between the ages of 12 to 25 years old.