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Jun 2011
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Tobacco companies have a long history of misleading politicians and the public. As understanding developed of the adverse effects smoking has on life expectancy and wellbeing, industry pro-tobacco arguments diversified.

Now the industry has been forced to concede that smoking kills, efforts are increasingly concentrated on building libertarian and economic arguments against policies to reduce smoking prevalence, as scare tactics to deter policymakers from supporting tobacco control policies.

The Tobacconomics report, produced by ASH, reveals how the tobacco industry uses pseudo economic arguments to divert attention away from the health consequences of smoking to block new health regulations and ultimately protect its revenues. As the report shows, this goes as far as repeatedly misleading its own shareholders.

In propagating their economic arguments the tobacco firms have established a disparate and loose coalition of lobbyists, smaller retailers and businesses.

Some of these groups can be seen as no more than ‘fronts’ for industry interests. Many groups, however, have sided with the economic arguments used by the industry because it has roused their fears that tobacco regulation will damage their livelihood.

The three major pro-tobacco arguments developed by the industry and its lobbyists, which are recycled again and again for each new policy intervention, can be summarised as follows:

  • Standing up for small businesses and defending workers’ jobs
  • Raising the alarm about counterfeit and smuggled tobacco
  • Denying the effectiveness of tobacco control measures

The report gives examples of how these arguments are developed and debunks the claims that support them.

However, no matter how spurious the economic arguments might be and how plain the evidence is to the contrary, these assertions capture media attention and assume an influence on policy makers disproportionate to their accuracy by dint of repetition and through powerful lobbying by vested interests.