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Using flavors and flavor concepts to target youth

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Cigarette manufacturers apply a variety of flavor additives to nearly all products, but only menthol, which “redefine[d] the smoking experience” more than forty years ago, has proved successful as a basis for marketing a cigarette brand by its flavor. Nonetheless, the concept of flavored cigarettes as a strategy for expanding the cigarette market has been revisited periodically over many years. For example, an internal Philip Morris (PM) presentation in 1992 discussed the benefits of flavored cigarettes, noting that

there has been a flavor-variety explosion in virtually every category of consumables except cigarettes. …New flavors could cut across current and menthol segments, creating a new category. …The concept (new flavors) could have the potential to be the most innovative change in cigarette marketing, reviving taste enjoyment and conscious purchase—selection excitement.”

Exhibit 2Go presents examples of flavors explored by the tobacco industry in concept and cigarette prototype testing. It should be noted that industry research on flavor development has examined many of the same flavors found in today’s products.

Internally, the appeal of flavored cigarettes has long been associated with specific consumer populations, particularly young and novice smokers.6 For example, Brown and Williamson’s (B&W’s) consumer research in 1984 revealed notable agreement among respondents that flavored cigarettes would be much more popular among young and inexperienced smokers. Echoing the sentiments of the PM presentation quoted above, a 1993 Lorillard document observed: “Growing interest in new flavor sensations (i.e. soft drinks, snack foods) among younger adult consumers may indicate new opportunities for enhanced-flavor tobacco products that could leverage Newport’s current strength among younger adult smokers.” As summarized in an undated RJR document describing the early development of flavored cigarettes: “Flavored cigarettes appeal to women…[and] younger smokers.”

Internal studies of differences in taste and flavor preferences by age group confirmed that younger smokers are more open to unique and exotic flavors than their older counterparts. A 1984 B&W Taste Segmentation study suggested that 28 percent of young smokers (under age 35) preferred robust tastes, compared with 21 percent and 12 percent of smokers ages 35–54 and age 55 and older, respectively. Younger smokers (22 percent) preferred fruit flavors more than those ages 35–54 (20 percent) and age 55 and older (13 percent).

Industry research findings suggest that young and novice smokers also might be especially vulnerable to product benefits related to flavored cigarettes. In 1992 PM tested several flavors among young adult smokers (male, ages 18–24; female, ages 18–34) and identified a number of possible consumer benefits, including increased social acceptance via pleasant aroma and aftertaste, increased excitement (for example, sharing flavors), smoking enjoyment, and a “high curiosity to try factor.”

Young adult smokers represented an emerging “corporate priority” beginning in the late 1980s as an engine for industry market growth. In a report titled “Products of the 90’s,” RJR authors emphasized the need to target products toward young smokers, and specifically to ensure “that conventional products have appeal to 18–24 year olds,” as well as to provide “choices which are very different from current products.” RJR’s flavor development targeted full-flavor low-tar (FFLT) male and female smokers ages 18–34, “given their demonstrated behavior in compromising traditional tobacco taste and the strategic opportunity to the company presented by younger adult smokers.” Likewise, Lorillard’s 1991 proposal for a flavor-enhanced refreshment line of Newport for young adult smokers stated: “Given young adults [sic] proclivity towards flavors in other categories (i.e. soft drinks, wine coolers), a flavor enhanced menthol product may appeal to these smokers.”

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