Eleven years ago, writes historian Robert Proctor in The New York Times, a Federal District Court judge in Washington concluded after a nine-month trial that cigarette makers had committed fraud and violated racketeering statutes in a decades-long conspiracy to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking. Judge Gladys Kessler didn’t mince words, ruling that Philip Morris and other tobacco companies had “marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.” This week, newspapers and television networks will begin carrying five “corrective statements” ordered by the court, shown above as printed in The Times. Altria, R. J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Philip Morris will be required to run statements five times a week on weekdays for one year on CBS, NBC and ABC; the statements will also appear in full-page ads on five Sundays between now and March in more than 50 leading newspapers.
Despite the corrective statements, tobacco companies still spend far more money persuading people to smoke than warning of the dangers. And, as Wall Street Journal columnist Jo Craven McGinty noted, “the nation’s 92 million millennials and teenagers may not get the message because the ads will run primarily on network television and newspapers. ‘That’s not where young people’s eyeballs are’, said Robin Koval, CEO and President of Truth Initiative, a nonprofit organization that campaigns against youth smoking.”
In its annual Good Governance report, writes Fair Observer, the Institute of Directors assesses the United Kingdom’s largest listed companies against indicators that include board effectiveness, audit and risk accountability, remuneration, shareholder relations and stakeholder relations. Ironically, the IoD index’s top performers often come from the alcohol and tobacco industries. This year’s report gave pride of place to the distiller Diageo and the 2016 winner was British American Tobacco (BAT). The IoD’s standards may be appropriate for how these companies behave in London. In Kinshasa, Kampala and Juba, though, the praise of BAT surely raises eyebrows. As the rest of the world has learned over the intervening months, above-board corporate behavior in the UK does not guarantee ethical conduct elsewhere. Over the summer, The Guardian revealed in a series of explosive investigative pieces that BAT (as well as other multinational tobacco firms) has been ruthless in staking out market share and seeing off health regulations in African markets. BAT and its allies have threatened governments in some eight African countries to counteract policies that have underpinned public health initiatives in Western markets.
Image from Youth Food Educators of East Harlem
Countermarketing campaigns use health communications to reduce the demand for unhealthy products by exposing motives and undermining marketing practices of producers. These campaigns can contribute to the prevention of noncommunicable diseases by denormalizing the marketing of tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy food. By portraying these activities as outside the boundaries of civilized corporate behavior, countermarketing can reduce the demand for unhealthy products and lead to changes in industry marketing practices. Countermarketing blends consumer protection, media advocacy, and health education with the demand for corporate accountability. Countermarketing campaigns have been demonstrated to be an effective component of comprehensive tobacco control. This review describes common elements of tobacco countermarketing such as describing adverse health consequences, appealing to negative emotions, highlighting industry manipulation of consumers, and engaging users in the design or implementation of campaigns. It then assesses the potential for using these elements to reduce consumption of alcohol and unhealthy foods.
Full citation: Palmedo PC, Dorfman L, Garza S, Murphy E, Freudenberg N. Countermarketing Alcohol and Unhealthy Food: An Effective Strategy for Preventing Noncommunicable Diseases? Lessons from Tobacco. Annu Rev Public Health. 2017;38:119-144.
For more than a decade New York City has led a historic and successful effort to reduce smoking, driving down smoking rates to historic lows. Despite these efforts, about 950,000 people still smoke and significant disparities persist by education, household income and mental health. One reason why tobacco use is still the number one cause of preventable disease and death in New York City is the overwhelming number of places where tobacco can be legally purchased in the five boroughs. In a new report, the American Cancer Society Cancer Actions Network recommends that New York City should:
• Establish a cap on retail tobacco licenses
• Restrict access near youth-service entities
• Restrict retail outlet proximity to each other
• Restrict all tobacco sales in pharmacies
• Add restrictions on other tobacco products
The local chamber of commerce is usually a reliable ally in battles against regulation. But when it comes to smoking rules, many business groups have decided they would rather switch than fight, reports Reuters. Even in states where tobacco has played an important role in the economy—including North Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri—chambers have endorsed cigarette tax hikes, raising the smoking age and other efforts to curb tobacco habits. The shift has accelerated since 2016, driven by a growing awareness that smoking drives up healthcare costs for employers, business groups said. Smoking restrictions often are part of broader wellness initiatives, such as promoting exercise and nutrition, aimed at improving health—and business. “Smoking isn’t just killing us, it’s bankrupting us,” said Ashli Watts, a spokeswoman with the Chamber of Commerce for Kentucky, where one in four adults uses tobacco, the lung cancer rate is the nation’s highest and related healthcare and lost productivity costs nearly $5 billion a year. “Companies do look at the health of a workforce,” Watts said. An unhealthy workforce “is a deterrent.”
Ten years ago, writes Kelly Henning from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health program in the Health Affairs blog, the world was a different place when it came to tobacco. Fewer than twenty developing countries in the world had even one strong tobacco control policy in place. The tobacco industry was beginning an aggressive ramping up of nefarious activities to grow their market share in vulnerable developing countries. And although advocates for tobacco control measures had a major public health victory in passing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first public health treaty, little financial or technical help was available to support countries that wanted to put life-saving, proven tobacco control policies in place. Early in 2007, the tobacco control landscape was changed dramatically when Michael R. Bloomberg, then in his second term as mayor of the City of New York, donated $125 million through his foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, for a two-year commitment to reducing global tobacco use. Now ten years and a total of $600 million later, Bloomberg recently committed another $360 million over six years to this life-saving work, bringing his total financial commitment to nearly $1 billion. In that time, nearly 100 countries worldwide with a total of more than four billion people have passed at least one strong tobacco control law—and fifty-nine of these countries with nearly 3.5 billion people have received Bloomberg support.
A UK court has dismissed an appeal brought by some of Britain’s largest tobacco companies over the government’s new plain packaging rules, reports Reuters. In the decision, the court dismissed all appeals brought by British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco, Imperial Brands and several paper manufacturers. The companies argued that the law, which went into effect in May, unlawfully deprives them of their intellectual property by banning the use of all marketing on packages, including logos, colors and special fonts. “This is a victory for public health and another crushing defeat for the tobacco industry,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of health charity Action on Smoking and Health.