Danger! PR in the playground: new report reveals tobacco giants’ sinister strategy on youth smoking

Tuesday 10 October 2000


Joint ASH / Cancer Research Campaign press release


Press release      Embargo:10th October 2000 10:00am (UK)


Keep tobacco industry away from kids – new report reveals tobacco giants’ sinister PR strategy on youth smoking


Tobacco companies such as BAT and Philip Morris are guilty of a sickening fraud over teenage anti-smoking initiatives.  Companies have adopted a public posture of opposition to teenage smoking and even funded anti-smoking initiatives for teenagers.  But an investigation by ASH and The Cancer Research Campaign has revealed that this is no more than a sinister and cynical public relations strategy.  The purpose is to fend off meaningful restrictions on tobacco advertising and gain PR advantage, while proposing only measures that are unlikely to reduce youth smoking and likely make it more attractive by positioning cigarettes as an adult product and smoking as rebellious.


The report releases internal tobacco industry documents, focus group testing and academic research with three main findings:


Professor Gordon McVie, Director of the London-based Cancer Research Campaign is furious: “Teenage smoking inessential to the tobacco industry, without it they would just wither and die.They never support anything that would work but push the measures that are more likely to fail or even increase smoking.”


Clive Bates of ASH in London says: “When you look at what they say privately, and compare it to their public posturing, the whole idea that tobacco companies might be working against teenage smoking is revealed as sinister self-serving public relations.  The more they try to define smoking as only for adults, the more they are saying ‘hey kids, smoking’s for grown-ups’ with a sly nod and a cynical wink.”


The Cancer Research Campaign andASH is calling for the tobacco companies to cease all youth smoking initiativesimmediately.  Professor McVie adds:“Anyone whose job in life is selling cigarettes should never be allowed nearteenagers ­ you just can’t trust them with truth, and you can’t trust them withyoung people.”


On the eve of negotiations overthe WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the two organisations warngovernments around the world not to be seduced by tobacco industry propagandaabout youth smoking.


Clive Bates of ASH said: “Theycome at developing country governments with a seductive package of responsiblesmoking, reasonable marketing and money to burn ­ but what they  really want is to head off any meaningfulregulation or health policy. Governments that fall into this trap and co-operate or join forces withBAT or Philip Morris are basically handing over their young people toaddiction, misery and early death at the hands of the tobacco industry.


“One notable finding was that BATand Philip Morris placed great emphasis on the role of parents, teachers,health educators, governments and companies. But they failed to mention the importance of aspirational role modelssuch as Formula One drivers, actors and pop-stars in the promotion ofcigarettes.


“It’s blatantly obvious, theywant to associate the anti-smoking message with parents, teachers and other‘boring’ representatives of adult authority, but reserve the people that make adifference like racing drivers and other celebrities for promoting smoking,”Bates added.


Professor McVie challenged PhilipMorris and BAT to make their superstars available for anti-smokinginitiatives.  Philip Morris sponsors theMarlboro Ferrari F1 team with Michael Schumacher as the lead driver, andJacques Villeneuve is the key star of BAT’s British American Racing team.


“If they cared about youthsmoking at all, they would be funding massive TV advertising campaignsfeaturing Schumacher and Villeneuve, and leaving the content and message togenuine professionals who know how to make anti-smoking commercials that reducesmoking, rather than encourage it,” said Professor McVie.



[1] The full report [PDF version] is available at https://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_625.pdf 


Press Contacts:

The Cancer Research Campaign:

Press Office +44(0)20 7487 3768 ISDN available



Clive Bates /Amanda Sandford +44(0)20 7739 5902 (w) +44 (0)468 791 237 (m)ISDN available