We often think that the worst transgressions of tobacco marketing are a thing of the past. Most of the claims that “Doctors prefer Camels” or that there is not certainty that smoking causes cancer are indeed moments passed but this doesn’t mean that the tobacco companies, some of the most profitable companies in the world, are not doing all they can to continue to increase their profits.
The world’s largest tobacco company has backed away from its demands to see thousands of confidential interviews with British teenagers gathered as part of a university research project into children’s attitudes to smoking.
Philip Morris International, the makers of Marlboro, has quietly dropped its Freedom of Information request to see the interviews held by researchers at Stirling University, after the company was widely condemned following revelations by The Independent in September.
Essentially the University conducted interviews with teenagers about smoking and Philip Morris wanted to see the interviews and used a Freedom of Information request in an attempt to get them and at first, they didn’t even use their name.
Tobacco marketing, from the lies of the 1950s to the disinformation of the 1960s and 1970s to “Joe Camel” in the 1980s is pervasive, powerful and devastating. The core components of the strategy to sell tobacco, essentially getting consumers to pay $7 a pack to get addicted and kill themselves, remain in place.
First, forget the facts. Not just forget them, but completely ignore them, and in fact, turn them on their head. Smoking tobacco might be bad for your health? Well, then we’ll get doctors to tell you about how good smoking is for you. (Or say, let’s get Vietnam veterans to debunk the heroism of John Kerry.)
Second, because you are selling lies, spend an enormous amount of money on the lies. Tobacco companies are selling something no rational person would buy so the spend is enormous. Even today, tobacco companies spend billions on marketing and advertising their products. (Republican groups spend more liberally and broader than Democratic groups.)
Third, do what it takes to make the sale or win the race. Most companies wouldn’t have the gumption to do what Philip Morris did here, but PM doesn’t care one bit. They are protecting an enormous cash cow and they will do what it takes to protect it, and make it even larger if possible. (See Karl Rove.)
The theory and strategies behind tobacco marketing work. That’s why they keep doing them.