Conducted by: Essential Action and Reality Check
January 2003

Many Americans are unaware that "AMERICA" is one of the most popular and powerful themes in tobacco advertising abroad. In January 2003, Essential Action and Reality Check decided to investigate how widespread this promotional ploy is, and why it works so well, by asking some questions of our colleagues around the world.

Tobacco control advocates in 28 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern/Central Europe responded to our informal poll. While our survey sample was small and not necessarily representative of the populations in these countries, the responses do suggest some universally-held perceptions of the U.S. and tell the psychological story behind Big Tobacco's use and abuse of the U.S., and NYC in particular, in its advertising around the world.


  • 76% said that people in their country have a positive view of the United States.
  • What people in other countries like about the U.S.: Freedom, Democracy, Good lifestyle, wealth, opportunity, development, power, and glamour
  • 70% of respondents said that, when they think about the U.S., New York City is the very first city that comes to their mind.
  • Top 5 cities that respondents associate with the U.S.: New York (100%), Washington, DC (73%), Los Angeles (60%), Chicago (50%), San Francisco (40%). Next five include: Boston (33%), Miami ( 20%), Dallas (13%), Atlanta (10%), Philadelphia/Las Vegas (7%)


  • New York City is most commonly associated with skyscrapers (e.g. the World Trade Center and Empire State Building), "Manhattan", the Statue of Liberty, "Business", fashion, diversity and art.
  • New York city is also associated with: modernity, affluence, prosperity, Broadway and show business, Wall Street, "Big Apple", and "high living"
  • The Statue of Liberty, in particular, symbolizes - nearly universally - "freedom" and "liberty" as well as "USA", "Welcome", "democracy", and "justice." It is also associated with "equal opportunity", "hope", "peace", "pride" and "victory".
  • 60% of respondents said that they have seen tobacco advertisements and/or promotional items, which use U.S. scenes, symbols or place names. Examples included:

    * Statue of Liberty (Argentina)
    * City skyline and message "Have you ever been to New York?" (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
    * Big Apple (Ghana)
    * World Trade Center (South Korea)
    See compilation of photos from around the world

  • For many, the Marlboro Man is synonymous with the U.S.
  • Respondents said that the tobacco industry uses U.S. themes in its advertising outside the U.S., because the U.S. stands first and foremost for "wealth" and "power" - as well as "prosperity", "a good lifestyle", "freedom", and "success". People around the world look up to the U.S.


  • 50% of respondents said that people in their country believe that 50% or more of Americans smoke. Nearly 20% said that people in their country believe that 75% or more of Americans smoke. (Currently, only about 25% of Americans smoke)
  • Respondents said that people in their country get their impressions about the amount of smoking in the U.S. primarily through movies, television, and tobacco ads.
  • 93% have seen actors smoking in U.S. movies (60% "a lot")
  • 47% of respondents said that people in their country are not aware that many places in the U.S. have prohibited smoking in public places.


  • 100% of respondents said that the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control should include a comprehensive advertising ban. Several respondents noted that there used to be tobacco ads that featured U.S. imagery in their countries, but this ended
    when tobacco advertising bans were implemented.
  • Respondents call on the U.S. to join the majority of the world's nations in supporting a strong FCTC. They note that "money is not as important as people's lives." View full list of specific appeals from around the world to the U.S. delegation to the FCTC


The use of U.S. imagery in tobacco ads abroad is widespread. These ads take advantage of people's dreams of the USA, while perpetuating a myth that smoking is "American" and that the majority of Americans smoke. The best way for countries to deal with this insidious marketing ploy would be to implement comprehensive advertising bans. The U.S. opposes including this measure in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Tobacco control advocates around the world call on the U.S. to stop fronting for the tobacco industry, and start showing a serious commitment to global public health.

COUNTRIES OF RESPONDENTS: Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Czech Republic, Ghana, India, Jordan, Kenya, Mongolia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Romania, Russia, South Korea, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yugoslavia, Zambia.

For more information, contact Essential Action

Essential Action
Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control

P.O. Box 19405 ~ Washington, DC 20036
Tel: +1 202-387-8030 ~ Fax: +1 202-234-5176
Email: [email protected]