The modern marketing industry has had its fair share of controversial topics, one of the major ones being the sale and marketing of tobacco. However, tobacco advertising is a particular interest in the controversy due to the associated health risks consumers are likely to face. These risks include risk of increased exposure to cancer from either direct consumption or secondary smoke. The tobacco controversy stems from the fact that there is a long documented history pertaining to four main areas of the subject of tobacco or cigarette advertising (Cummings, Brown & O’Connor 2007, 1071). First, what deepened the cigarette controversy is the question of whether the tobacco firms had the knowledge of health risks associated with smoking and at what time they became aware of these risks. Secondly, questions arise of whether tobacco companies conspired to intentionally give the public wrong impression about risks of smoking. Given that the controversy surrounding tobacco advertising is one that relates to its health implications, it is questioned whether scientists were involved and if so in what way they were involved in the controversy. Lastly, the controversy is still propelled by the fact that it is not clear whether the tobacco firms have changed the way they do business or not.
When It All Began
The elusive debate on cancer implications of cigarette smoking can be traced from the commission of enquiry held in 1994 where executive officers from major tobacco firms in the US gave testimony before the Congress arguing that there was no sufficient evidence linking cigarette smoking to diseases such as cancer and heart-related diseases. The heads of these companies further testified that cigarettes are not addictive and that the companies do not target children in their marketing endeavors. The controversy was however born when a parcel containing confidential documents was delivered to the University of California. The documents implicated Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation and revealed that the tobacco companies had all along known the health risks of tobacco smoking and had conspired to sit on vital information and deny the public the knowledge. In addition, the information in the confidential documents revealed that the attempts by the companies to support and sponsor research on smoking and health was just a sham. These revelations led to massive filing of lawsuits on behalf of state governments that culminated into the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998. Among other issues addressed by the agreement was the requirement for the industry to post more 30 million pages of tobacco industry documents online. In the year that followed, the Federal Government (USA) filed a suit against the tobacco faulting it for deliberately misleading the public and violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act).
Positive side of the Tobacco Industry
While the tobacco debate is heated creating a wave of controversy, the fact that the controversy touches on the involvement of scientific community to mask truth makes it a subject for increased investigation. Meanwhile, the tobacco industry has positive contributions to the society. First, it can be evaluated on the basis of its contribution to the economy and creation of employment. The employment tree for the tobacco industry starts at the farm level where many tobacco farmers earn a living through the sale of the fresh produce to the manufacturing companies. We have distributors and suppliers who also earn a livelihood from the industry. At the company level, just like any other firm or company, a tobacco company employs all the human resources needed to make a firm run effectively and efficiently. By offering employment to various people in the society, the tobacco industry therefore offers a solution to many social problems the society is faced with (Simms, nd. 2).
Besides employment, the tobacco industry pays taxes to the government and these taxes are essential in building the economy in one way or another. On this point we have VAT levied on cigarettes and which are paid for by the consumers and we also have excise duties levied directly to the companies and firms (Simms, nd 4).
On the perspective of research and development, even though earlier assessments indicated that the initial efforts by the tobacco companies to sponsor research on health risks of smoking were charade, there is evidence that tobacco companies currently support humanitarian objectives including research in health risks associated with smoking and how to mitigate these risks. In addition, the tobacco companies initially denied the scientific fact that there is risk of cancer for tobacco smokers (Simms, nd 3). Presently, tobacco companies are required to tell consumers about the risks associated with smoking. These should be included in the tobacco advertisements. These points show that even if the tobacco continues, the tobacco industry has positive impacts to the society when assessed from the economic and moral points of view.
Health risks of Smoking and what Tobacco Companies have Known
There are three major concerns associated with cigarette smoking and these include risk of cancer, heart disease and addiction to tobacco. Since the early days of the development of the tobacco industry and specifically since the mid 20th century, tobacco firms have told tobacco consumers that there was no evidence to link tobacco smoking to any health risks. Due to this stance, competing firms would present their tobacco brands to consumers in a way that implied the presented brand was better than the competitors’ brands (Hyland et al 2002, 111). Initially, the safety of the smoke was thus gauged on the basis how less irritating the smoke was when inhaled. Nevertheless, this assumption has been faulted by several authors who argue that by presenting less irritating smoke as less harmful, the tobacco companies made the smoke more harmful since cigarette consumers would now inhale the smoke more deeply into their lungs thereby causing more damage and higher risks of lung cancer. This type of advertising, even though meant to increase sales revenuers for the tobacco companies, was misleading to the public given that evidence linking tobacco smoking to cancer had already appeared in literature by 1920 (Cummings et al 2007, 1073).
Carl Bialik in his Wall Street Journal article (April 23, 2010) argues that the proposition to have smokeless tobacco deepens the tobacco controversy especially with the knowledge that lung cancer killed approximately 160, 0000 Americans in the year 2009 (Bialik 2010). The author further reports that ill health effects due to smoking are prevalent and lung cancer and oral cancer are the indicators of the prevalence though oral cancer is not as prevalent as lung cancer. With respect to addiction, making tobacco smoke less irritating puts the smoker at higher risks of getting addicted quickly (Kozlowski & O’Connor 2002, 144).
Conspiracy to Misinform the Public
An enquiry carried dearly in 1991 by Cummings et al provides evidence to the effect that scientific researchers funded by the tobacco industry found strong correlation between smoking and cancer. Nevertheless, these concerns were cleverly brushed aside by the tobacco companies such that in their advertisings they did not deny or accept the connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. In addition, the companies did not even encourage smokers or tobacco consumers to quit the habit but rather presented their advertisements in a way that demonstrated competitive rivalry for market dominance by arguing that their cigarettes had “smooth smoke” hence less irritating than the respective competitors’. Cummings et al (1991, Abstract) observe that tobacco companies have collectively and individually denied that tobacco smoking has been confirmed to cause disease in spite of overwhelming evidence established via scientific enquiry and academic endeavors (Cummings et al 1991, 894). The authors further point out that the tobacco industry uses its support for Council for Tobacco Research (CTR) as a cloud to blind the public about the knowledge and conspiracy to deceive consumers and general public. On the contrary, scientists that are funded under the CTR umbrella believe that tobacco smoking causes addiction that in turn puts consumers at higher risks to various diseases, some of which are fatal and life threatening.
Further evidence for conspiracy to misinform the public on health risks of cigarette smoking was demonstrated when the chief head of the American Tobacco Company called upon all the heads of leading tobacco manufacturers in the US to a meeting in which they agreed to collectively contract a public relations company, Hill & Knowlton. The PR firm was tasked with developing a response to the allegations of health risks of smoking. According to Robert and Angel (2006, 495), the main objective of the PR firm was to stop public panic associated with fear of smoking and cigarette smoke.
In the August 2006 District Court ruling, Judge Gladys Kessler held that the tobacco companies connived to violate the main pillars of RICO Act and indeed violated them. It implies that the companies conspired to reap from the ignorance of the public on matters concerning health risks of cigarette smoking for sake of making profits and business thrive (US v Philip Morris et al 2006).
Involvement of Scientific Community in the Controversy
The scientific community was used by tobacco industry to call for further research to be carried out. This qualified the position taken by tobacco industry that there was no sufficient evidence to link smoking and alleged health risks. The scientific community also became a perfect foil for the companies to use in their public relations response to those allegations. This was also a good indicator that there was a controversy. The other issue that deepened the tobacco controversy was the impression created that science was being availed for sale when Tobacco Industry Research Committee scientists embarked on a public relations initiative rather than carrying out their mandated duty of researching about smoking and health and informing the public (Hyland et al 2002, 112). This approach showed that the scientific community was being used and influenced by the tobacco manufacturers hence was not independent. This approach created friction within the TIRC, which led its communications committee splitting to form the Tobacco Institute in 1958 (Cummings et al 2007).
In 1964, the US Surgeon General issued a report confirming that smoking was indeed harmful to health. Despite this report, the tobacco manufacturers continued to insist that there was no proof that tobacco smoking causes any of the alleged health risks (Burney 1983, 12). Even the breakaway Tobacco Institute continued to argue that there was scientific controversy on whether there is any health risk associated with tobacco smoking. The TI encouraged the public to contact its offices to get a copy of a paper that contained scientific evidence challenging the proposition that cigarette smoking caused diseases (Hammond et al 2005, 1373). In short, the tobacco industry used every means to confuse the public on the health risks of smoking tobacco. These attempts included contracting the Public Relations Company, using the scientific community in a manipulative way, and using deceptive advertising.
Current Situation in the Tobacco Industry
The question that first comes to mind is whether the tobacco companies have changed or are still in the same manner of controversial approaches. In 1998 there was a Master Settlement Agreement that required tobacco companies to change their advertising and marketing habits and disband the Tobacco Institute and all other research organizations sponsored by the tobacco industry. In the year that followed the Master Settlement Agreement, Phillip Morris Tobacco Company informed the public that there was tremendous medical and scientific compromise that cigarette smoking leads to lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other life threatening disease in tobacco consumers. All major tobacco companies have statements on their websites stating that cigarette smoking causing serious health risks. For instance, on its website, British American Tobacco Company states:
“Smoking is a cause of serious diseases but our scientists are working hard to develop less harmful tobacco products”- www.bat.com
The statement carefully depicts BAT cigarette products to be less harmful since its scientists are working hard to develop less harmful tobacco products. It is sufficient to note that less harmful still implies harm to health. Therefore, have the Tobacco companies changed? According to the Kessler ruling, the companies have not changed since they are still motivated by the drive to remain profitable in an industry selling harmful and addictive products to the society and public (US v Philip Morris et al 2006). Only tactics have changed.
The tobacco controversy is an important subject in the modern marketing since it brings together various issues that include the moral object of advertising, the responsibility of scientific community in giving the public correct information in a timely fashion and impact of conspiracy by companies in the industry to break the law. while the tobacco industry has positive effect to the society such as creation of employment and payment of taxes, the controversy deepens from the fact that even though the negative effects of smoking are enormous and documented, the industry has tried hard to hoard this knowledge from the public and use every means to concoct the truth.
The tobacco companies had the knowledge of the risks associated with smoking but masked it from the public and pretended to fund research organizations in health risks of cigarette smoking when in actual sense these organizations were just an extension of the tobacco industry public relations arm. In the end, most of the tactics used by the industry were broken by the law supported by irrefutable medical and scientific evidence. However, these companies have not changed their motivations but have rather just changed the tactics.
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