The Power of Public Opinion

Article excerpt

Public opinion counts.

Despite their many millions invested directly in the electoral and legislative process, Big Tobacco has never lost sight of this essential truth.

Big Tobacco has spent millions of dollars studying public opinion, assessing how to shape it and investing in altering it, the recently released tobacco papers show.

* "We have completed a half-dozen local opinion surveys ... on workplace smoking restrictions," the Tobacco Institute reported in 1985 .

* Between March 1977 and November 1978, RJR alone conducted at least 11 polls, seven focus group tests, and two major test market trials as it devised a strategy to counter "a change in the strategy of antismoking forces"

* The companies routinely use polls and focus groups to study public responses to advertising campaigns .

* The industry has conducted numerous polls on the tort system and lawsuits against tobacco companies

* And the industry has relied on polls and focus groups to test the effectiveness of anti-smoking campaigns .

(These papers were released in connection with the State of Minnesota lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The citations in this article identify specific industry documents, available for viewing on the internet For an explanation of how the papers were released and a key to the citations in this editorial and throughout this special issue, see "Meet the Tobacco Papers," on page 9.)

For more than two decades, the tobacco papers show, the industry has viewed growing negative attitudes toward smoking as an overriding problem for at least two related reasons.

First, the shift in social attitudes on tobacco use makes smokers feel guilty. "Smokers need support in today's hostile smoking environment," explained a 1983 RJR memorandum analyzing the findings of a focus group study .

A 1977 Tobacco Institute memo suggested a similar need to provide "support" to smokers: "Cigarette smokers for the most part feel guilty about smoking and want to quit. What can the industry do in terms of communications with smokers to remove their guilt and their desire to cease? …