How Big Tobacco Hooked Kids on Sugary Drinks

Corporate campaigns targeted kids and helped to create our obesity crisis.

A little girl drinks juice.

What’s the connection between the Marlboro Man, Joe Camel, the Kool-Aid Man, and Punchy of Hawaiian Punch fame? All are mascots that R. J. Reynolds and Philip Morris employed in marketing campaigns over the past 50 years — the latter two designed to support Big Tobacco’s expansion into the children’s beverage market.

The firms used kid-targeted spins on their successful adult merchandising to sell Kool-Aid, Hawaiian Punch, Tang, and Capri Sun to a nascent audience, according to new research published in the medical journal BMJ. This included the cartoonish characters, widespread advertising, branded toys, vending-machine salepoints, and child-size packaging — including the first juice boxes.

Big Tobacco also applied its expertise with sweeteners and artificial flavorings to the novel drinks, sometimes sharing flavors with tobacco products.

Experts say the marketing and flavorings cultivated loyalty to the sugary beverages, which, along with sodas, have greatly contributed to the world’s obesity crisis. These brands are currently owned by soda companies and other food and beverage makers.

is an Experience Life deputy editor.

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