Tricks of the Tobacco Trade

Journal of Business Administration and Policy Analysis, Annual 1996 | Go to article overview

Tricks of the Tobacco Trade


Tobacco is an inflammatory issue. I recently saw an editorial in a Toronto paper that described the health community pressing for tobacco control as "nico-nazis." On the other side of the fence, I've seen advocates describing the tobacco industry as "duMurderers" instead of duMaurier. I've seen otherwise distinguished groups like the Fraser Institute publish what can only be called naive rubbish. I guess I should be understanding of their naivete for I too was naive about ten years ago when I first got into this.

My intellectual background is in social science. I have degrees in consumer behaviour, and my Ph.D. work is in applied social psychology. I took an interest in the social and cultural effects of advertising and looked at its history. I was in a position to know a fair amount, at least more than the average person, about cigarette advertising. But if you had asked me a decade ago about it, I wouldn't have had a lot to say, and I would have probably assumed that the industry position was reasonably plausible.

It is their position that this is a mature market, and that consequently they're only interested in brand switchers, and not particularly interested in starters or stopping people from quitting. It's a legal product sold in legal ways, they claim, and their advertising is reasonable. The new forms of the product are somehow new and improved and superior to the old, traditional forms of the product.

I've learned a lot in the last decade, not only through my study of the ads in various archives I've accessed and the many academic studies I've engaged in, but also in the course of trials. There I've had access to the trade work - that is the kind of market research studies that the firms do, the documents that spell out in cold-blooded detail the targeting and tactics of the industry. I've learned a lot about the tricks of the tobacco trade in what might be appropriately called "the dying art of cigarette advertising."

My naivete was stunning in the sense that I didn't realize quite how bad the tobacco problem was from a medical perspective. I didn't realize how important advertising was as an element in the perpetual success of the industry. (They're still earning record profits.) And I didn't realize how impotent was the whole regulatory effort. You get the impression that this is a heavily regulated industry. Just to give you one fact, there is no law with respect to cigarette advertising in Canada. We have a law pending now before the Senate, but at the moment there is no law. The only federal law was found unconstitutional recently.

Tonight I'm going to show you lots of examples from American and Canadian advertising and public relations material, both old and new. Some of it's shocking and stunning, some of it's laughable, at least if you have a dark sense of humour. I'm going to have a bit of help from some testimonials and confessions from various people: Pat Reynolds of the R. J. Reynolds family, Walter Winchell, Victor Denoble, a research scientist at Phillip Morris, Victor Crawford of the Tobacco Institute, ex-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and so on. Hopefully some of this will amuse you, and some of it will amaze you. There'll be both some stunning facts and some subtle psychology in all of this. A lot of it may be incredible, but I vouch for its truth.

I became very curious when I first got enlisted as an expert witness because within the first two weeks of my name being given to the tobacco industry as witness, suddenly my phone acted strangely and my garbage seemed to be picked over. Most stunning of all, my office mail disappeared from my mail box and then reappeared after three hours - which was exactly the three-hour window of time when I was scheduled to be in a seminar. I've been in the same office and

faculty building for 26 years and I have never had that experience before or since. I asked all the secretaries and colleagues; no one knew a thing about it. …

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