As we revealed last week, almost two thirds (65 per cent) of the public don’t trust the tobacco industry to make believable and independent arguments about how to reduce smoking rates.
This is particularly relevant at the moment. The public health community – over 190 health and welfare organisations, including Cancer Research UK – is calling for the government to introduce plain, standardised tobacco packaging to protect children from tobacco marketing.
But the tobacco industry – and its funded groups – continue to oppose the measure, despite clear evidence that standard packs make cigarettes less attractive to children.
As the campaign intensifies, with the appearance of a new series of national press ads, it’s worth looking at how the tobacco industry’s opposition has panned out so far, and how it’s built such a dire reputation.
‘Misleading and unsubstantiated’
Since July 2012, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has run several series of advertisements in opposition to standard packs. It certainly has the money to get its message out – committing £2 million to the campaign – but for the second time in a few weeks, the ASA has today ruled JTI’s message to be misleading and unsubstantiated.
The latest ASA ruling focused on misleading claims such as:
“The black market in tobacco is booming. Last year it cost the treasury £3bn in unpaid duty”
…which appeared in two separate adverts.
But, as figures show, the black market in tobacco certainly isn’t ‘booming’ in the UK – in fact the illicit market for cigarettes has more than halved in a decade (we debunked the smuggling myth in this post).
The ruling also noted that JTI has itself acknowledged that the illicit trade in tobacco has reportedly been a declining trend in the last 10 years. The ASA ordered that JTI cannot use that ad again.
Once is a misfortune; twice is carelessness
What’s so remarkable is that today’s ruling follows a similar decision just a few weeks ago.
In March, the ASA told JTI that claiming that the Government had categorically “rejected” the policy of plain packaging for cigarettes in 2008 ‘gave a misleading impression to the public’.
While the tobacco industry has the financial muscle to spread its message, once again it failed to present the truth.
Undeterred, the industry’s latest ads have appeared in several national newspapers, prompted by the commitment of the Scottish Government in its tobacco control strategy to introducing standardised packaging.
The new ad shows a redacted letter from a civil servant at the UK Department of Health to the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, which JTI has highlighted to imply a lack of ‘hard evidence’ for standardised packaging.
In fact the Australian Government had sufficient confidence in the evidence to proceed with introducing standard packs in December 2012.
A lack of hard evidence?
Prior to the introduction of seatbelt legislation in 1983, no ‘hard evidence’ could have been produced on the number of lives that would be saved.
In 1979, transport minister William Rodgers claimed: “It is estimated that 1,000 lives would be saved and 10,000 serious injuries prevented by the use of seat belts [every year]”. 25 years later this was shown to be wildly inaccurate, but not in the way its critics assumed.
In fact, a more reliable estimate, based on retrospective data, suggested that 60,000 lives had been saved, with 670,000 serious injuries prevented – that’s 2,400 lives, and 26,800 serious injuries a year.
Standard packaging should be viewed as the latest step in a comprehensive tobacco control programme – which has accompanied decades of declining smoking rates in the UK. It hasn’t yet been put in to practice long enough to see its full benefits – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any evidence that it’s likely to be effective. You can read the facts here.
Why would the tobacco industry fight so hard against standard packs? The Tobacco Manufacturers Association, the representative body of the tobacco industry, claims that it spends money on marketing and promotion because: “Tobacco companies compete for market share amongst existing smokers over the age of 18”.
But court cases have highlighted the role youth recruitment has played in its marketing strategies for decades, as summarised by a US judge:
“Cigarette marketing…is designed to play a key role in the process of recruiting young, new smokers by exposing young people to massive amounts of imagery associating positive qualities with cigarette smoking”.
Similarly, the former CEO, of McCann-Erickson, one of the world’s leading advertising agencies disagreed:
“I am always amused by the suggestion that advertising, a function that has been shown to increase consumption of virtually every other product, somehow miraculously fails to work for tobacco products”.
Packaging remains one of the last possibilities for tobacco marketing, which is why the industry has spared no expense or effort to oppose the measure.
Tobacco is unique – it’s the only consumer product that has no safe level of usage, and when used as intended, will kill half of its long-term users. Nearly 570 children start smoking every day in the UK, with eight in 10 smokers starting before the age of 19.
It’s hard to overstate the harm tobacco use causes society – it’s not only the 100,000 deaths every year – but the thousands more whose lives are blighted with preventable conditions, not to mention the staggering financial burden of an addiction. (At the average RRP for 20 cigarettes, smoking a pack a day costs £2912.70 a year),
As long as the possibility to use the packaging for glitzy colourful branding and promotion remains, the tobacco industry will continue to commit its resources to developing this form of marketing to attract the 250,000 ‘replacement smokers’ it needs to find every year.
Nearly 60 years ago, in response to mounting evidence of harm, the tobacco industry published its “Frank Statement” in magazines and over 50 major newspapers – more than 400 in total – across the United States
The Statement contained such commitments as: “We always have and always will cooperate with those whose task it is to safeguard the public health.”
Yet over the following decades, the tobacco industry consistently denied the link between smoking and lung cancer.
Today it continues to oppose every effective measure to reduce smoking rates, using well documented tactics to block, amend or delay legislation at every opportunity.
The tobacco industry has survived by covering up the truth about its efforts to recruit young smokers, and lying about the lethal nature of their product, which is why the UK public does not trust it.
‘To be frank’ – why would anyone?