Tobacco Firms Sponsor College Fraternity Parties

Tobacco companies have found a new way to promote their products — sponsoring parties at fraternities, the Fresno Bee reported May 22.

At California State University, Fresno, the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, a maker of snuff and chewing tobacco, has held promotional giveaways at fraternity parties. According to state records on tobacco-marketing activities, the company handed out free samples of their products at five parties so far this year, and 16 last year.

“It’s an effective way to get young people hooked, and that’s why the tobacco industry is doing it,” said Susan Pearman, program manager for Individual Mentors and Peers Advocating to Control Tobacco, a Fresno health-education project aimed at preventing young adults from becoming tobacco users.

University officials said the promotions at the off-campus fraternities aren’t illegal and the school has no authority to stop them.

“The university can’t impose guidelines or restrictions on fraternity social events. We can take action against a group for misconduct at an event, but we do not regulate the structure or format or sponsorship of an event,” said Connan Campbell, Greek system adviser at Fresno State.

Health officials are monitoring tobacco’s fraternity sponsorship and hope to encourage students to stop them. But fraternity members counter that there is no difference between a tobacco company sponsoring a party and a beer distributor. They argue that they are adults and are aware of the dangers associated with addiction to nicotine.

In addition to U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, Philip Morris USA has agreed to voluntarily inform the state when it plans to sponsor activities at California fraternities or bars that cater to a younger adult clientele. This year, the two companies combined are holding 1,200 promotions. Other cigarette companies have not voluntary disclosed their marketing plans to the state.