Do cigarette manufacturers know their customers, or do cigarette manufacturers know their customers?
A recent article in the New York Times found that “low-income smokers in New York spend 25% of their income on cigarettes.”
While statistics like this might come as a surprise to regular folks like you and me (and seem far-fetched), the notion that an addicted smoker will continue to buy cigarettes to feed his addiction – no matter what the cost – is old news to cigarette makers (http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/action/document/page?tid=leq11b00). As one Philip Morris research scientist so matter-of-factly put it in 1969, during a presentation to the Philip Morris Board of Directors:
The cigarette will even preempt food in times of scarcity on the smoker’s priority list.
Cigarette makers have been studying smokers for years. And they have used this research to design their products. But don’t take my word for that – all one must do is look at the previously confidential internal business records of the major cigarette makers to find out about the lengths they went to study their customers. And why they did it.
Of all the previously confidential cigarette business records, one of the documents that sums up this aspect of cigarette/smoker research the best, in my opinion, is a Philip Morris business record from 1977. The document’s title alone is simple, yet informative – SMOKER PSYCHOLOGY PROGRAM REVIEW – and can’t help but conjure up images as cigarette researchers as evil puppet masters who have taken it upon themselves to learn more about smokers than even smokers know about themselves. And if the title alone doesn’t bring the puppet-master visual to mind, let me highlight some things that the author – who wrote this believing it would never see the light of day – states:
I’ve taken this as an occasion to review our basic premises – to ask
myself why are we doing the things we’re doing.
First, every undertaking has to have some mission. I would state
our charter from Philip Morris in this fashion:
Study the psychology of the smoker in search
of information that can increase corporate
Our charter is unique in that we are given the smoker to study.
Meanwhile, back in the lab, we continue to ask what it is that the
smoker derives from smoking.
I’ll try to explain the conceptual model that we are using.
We sell a product that is bought often and used from 10 to 60
times a day, day in and day out.
You are all familiar with Pavlov’s dog. Present a dog food,
he salivates. Ring a bell each time you present food, and in
due time you can ring the bell without the food and he will
salivate. This is classical conditioning.
Operant conditioning is quite different. Consider the classical
operant experiment. Put a hungry rat in a cage. Put a lever in
a cage. Make it so that a push on the lever delivers a pellet of
food. In its random movements the rat will push the lever.
He’ll get the pellet. The rat will soon associate lever pushing
Consider the smoker. Smoking the cigarette is the lever press.
The effect of that smoking act upon his person is the reward.
That effect reinforces the smoking act. He comes to push the
lever 10 to 60 times per day.
This, then, is how we have translated our corporate charter
into a scientific model.
So if you read the above article and are left shaking your head how, in this extremely difficult and sometimes desperate economic climate, a smoker can spend one quarter of their income on cigarettes, somewhere, cigarette executives and researchers read the same article; and that after they did, they congratulated each other on a job well done, and saying to one another “I told you so … just like rats in a cage.”