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Campaigners accuse tobacco firm of dubious ploy

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 27 May 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1427
  1. Simon Chapman
  1. Sydney

    The antismoking campaign group Quit from Melbourne, Australia, has accused the cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris of trying to win popularity among young people through dubious marketing devices. The company has been giving away, with its cigarettes, free keyrings with a concealed vial suitable for carrying drugs.

    Quit's staff were given such a key ring when they recently bought a box of Philip Morris's Alpine Extra Light cigarettes. The metal tube attached to the ring can be unscrewed to reveal inside a small glass vial with a metal screw top. Although it is not specified what the vial is for, research suggests that most young people think it would be suitable for carrying drugs.

    Quit's director, Todd Harper, asked the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer in Melbourne to investigate what young people thought it was for. The key ring was shown to groups of adolescents in a Melbourne shopping mall. After examining the key ring, all indicated that it would be used as some sort of container.

    With no prompting on what the vial might contain, 10 of the 13 groups suggested drugs. Their answers included various expressions, such as “drugs,” “coke,” “stash,” and “speed.” One summed it up: “It's a key ring, and it's what typically people use to carry …drugs.”

    Asked by a television reporter what the vial was meant to contain, a Philip Morris spokesperson replied “perfume.”

    Anne Jones, chief executive officer of Action on Smoking and Health, Australia, said that it was not surprising that the tobacco company decided to give away key rings with such a container as a sales promotion with their cigarettes because it wanted to attract young people who used illicit drugs.

    Among the 30 million pages of tobacco industry internal documents posted on the web (, thanks to a ruling in a Minnesota court in 1994, are several that indicate that the tobacco industry has long held an interest in young people who use illicit drugs.

    A 1983 Philip Morris memo notes: ‘It almost looks as though stimulants and cigarettes are interchangeable to these kids (a notion that has some intuitive validity).’

    Ms Jones also cited a document from British American Tobacco describing results of a brainstorming session by marketers in the 1980s, which stated: “We therefore have to compete to increase our market share using every trick that we know.” (Structured Creativity Group Presentation, D E Creighton, 1980s, BAT (file No G2108)102690336-350 Minnesota document depository).

    Embedded Image

    Will this free key ring—with its concealed vial suitable for carrying drugs—attract young smokers?

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