Three cigarette brands account for most American teen smoking

April 27, 2007

EDITORS: Results of this survey are scheduled to be released by Vice President Albert Gore and by Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala. For further information about the study, contact the principal investigator of the Monitoring the Future Study, Lloyd D. Johnston, at (734) 763-5043.

The full text of the report on cigarette brands smoked by teens, along with accompanying tables and figures, may be found on the study’s Web site at

ANN ARBOR—Just three cigarette brands account for nearly all teen smoking, and one of those brands alone accounts for the majority of the underage tobacco market, according to new results from the Monitoring the Future Study at the University of Michigan.

Marlboro is the choice of nearly two-thirds of youth smokers by the time they reach the end of high school. The second most widely used brand by teens is Newport, and the third is Camel. None of the other brands accounts for even 2 percent of the market among teens.

During the 1990s, smoking rates among American teens rose to their highest levels in nearly two decades. Monitoring the Future (MtF), a U-M study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has served as one of the primary sources of information documenting that trend. In the 1998 MtF survey—the 24th in this annual series—questions were asked for the first time about the brands of cigarettes that young people usually use.

The MtF study involves annual surveys of nationally representative samples of nearly 50,000 students in eighth, 10th, and 12th grades, located in some 422 private and public secondary schools nationwide.

“This work on brand choices was begun a couple of years ago, in part because of the impending national tobacco settlement, which originally named Monitoring the Future as the source of information by which the industry’s progress in reducing underage smoking would be measured,” according to Lloyd Johnston, the study’s principal investigator. That settlement, of course, died in the Congress and never came to fruition.

“The findings that emerge are really quite striking, particularly with regard to the preponderance of three brands among young smokers, and also with regard to major racial differences in brands smoked,” Johnston adds. His collaborators and co-authors of the report on brand choices are fellow psychologists Patrick M. O’Malley, Jerald G. Bachman, and John Schulenberg.

Among students in eighth, 10th, and 12th grades who are current smokers, Marlboro is by far the most common brand that they usually smoke. By 12th grade nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of youngsters who are current smokers (i.e., have smoked any cigarettes in the prior 30 days), smoke Marlboro. (Among white 12th-graders, this proportion reaches 70 percent.)

Two other brands account for nearly all of the remaining smokers who report having a usual brand. Newport is the second most popular brand, accounting for 13 percent of 12th-grade smokers. Camel ranks third, accounting for some 10 percent of them.

These three brands taken together account for 88 percent of the brand choices of 12th-graders, 86 percent of the choices of 10th-grade smokers, and 82 percent of the choices of current eighth-grade smokers (most of whom are 13 or 14 years old). No other brand accounts for as much as 2 percent of the current smokers at any grade. “One reason that these three brands account for an increasing proportion of choices as the youngsters get older is that an increasing proportion of them have a ‘usual’ brand that they smoke,” notes Johnston.

“In fact,” he adds, “it is noteworthy that as early as eighth grade, the majority of youngsters who smoke—some 90 percent—can name a usual brand. And among those who have already established a half-pack-a-day-habit in eighth grade, 98 percent name a usual brand. This gives the tobacco companies an enormous incentive to try to interest underage children in smoking their brand, because, if they wait until they have reached adulthood, the die is already cast. And I don’t know how you can make smoking a particular brand look attractive to children without making smoking itself look attractive to them.”

In comparing the brands usually smoked by different subgroups of students, the investigators were surprised to find that Marlboros are every bit as popular among girls at each grade level as they are among boys. “Considering the absence of females and the rugged, masculine themes in Marlboro ads, one might have thought that Marlboro would be more attractive to boys,” comments Johnston. “But obviously that is not the case.”

The largest subgroup differences in brands usually smoked were related to race and ethnicity. “There are dramatic racial and ethnic differences in brand choices,” the investigators say in their report. Newport, a mentholated cigarette, predominates among Black teen-age smokers to an even greater extent than Marlboro predominates among white teen-age smokers.

“While the great majority (from 61 percent to 70 percent) of white smokers at all three grade levels say they smoke Marlboros—as do a smaller, but still substantial majority of Hispanic smokers (from 57 percent to 65 percent)—fewer than 10 percent of the Black smokers at any grade level smoke Marlboro. Instead, their predominant brand is Newport—the brand smoked by between 71 percent and 82 percent of Black youngsters who are current smokers across the three grade levels. Virtually none of the Black adolescents smoke Camel (1.7 percent in eighth grade and zero percent in grades 10 and 12).”

White teen smokers are much more likely to name Camels as their usual brand than are either Hispanic or Black teen smokers. For example, among 12th-graders, 11 percent of white smokers, 3.4 percent of Hispanic smokers, and zero percent of Black smokers name Camels as their usual brand. In keeping with conventional wisdom, male smokers are more likely than females to name Camels, and teen smokers whose parents are highly educated are more likely to name Camels than those whose parents are less well-educated.

“In sum,” concludes Johnston, “the segment of the teen-age market which R.J. Reynolds/Nabisco has penetrated most completely with their Joe Camel theme is white males from well-educated families.

“Newport, made by Lorillard, accounts for most of the Black segment of the underage market. But Philip Morris, the maker of Marlboro, clearly dominates the white and Hispanic underage markets, and therefore the youth market as a whole.”

List of related tables

The study, titled “Monitoring the Future,” began in 1975 at the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center with annual surveys of American high school seniors. Beginning in 1991, similar surveys of nationally representative samples of eighth- and 10th-graders have been conducted annually. At each grade level the students are drawn to be representative of all students in public and private secondary schools nationwide. They complete self-administered questionnaires given to them in their classrooms in the spring of the year, by U-M personnel. The 1998 eighth-grade sample consisted of about 18,700 students in 149 schools, the 10th-grade sample about 15,400 students in 129 schools, and the 12th-grade sample contained about 15,800 students in 144 schools. In all, nearly 50,000 students in 422 public and private secondary schools were surveyed in 1998.

The question on brands smoked asks, “What brand of cigarettes do you usually smoke? Brands are in alphabetical order. Mark only one.” Twenty-three of the most widely sold brands in the country are then listed, along with an “other” category and “no usual brand” category. Only respondents who indicate that they have smoked one or more cigarettes in the prior 30 days are asked this question.

Lloyd JohnstonList of related tablesSurvey Research Center