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How Big Tobacco undermines tobacco control

The tobacco industry has a long history of denying the health risks of smoking.

Big Tobacco’s duplicitous strategy was exposed by whistle blowers leaking documents, backed up by US legal action which forced the manufacturers to release millions of internal documents.

Overview of industry tactics

What did Big Tobacco said publicly, and what did it know and do behind the scenes?

  • Trust Us We’re the Tobacco Industry covers addiction, advertising, economics, agriculture, developing countries, secondhand smoke, smuggling, product design, youth and the companies’ own anti-smoking programmes, women, lobbying and media relations. 2001
  • Danger! PR in the playground contrasts Big Tobacco’s public posture of opposition to teenage smoking with internal documents showing this was a cynical public relations strategy. 2000

Front groups and third-party lobbying

Internal documents also exposed Big Tobacco’s long history of using front groups, often with hidden links to the tobacco industry, to influence the policy process and slow the progress of tobacco control, on key policy measures like smokefree places, display bans and plain packaging.

The UK government’s default position is to exempt small business from regulation, so the voice of independent tobacco retailers is key. Big Tobacco uses its distribution networks to leverage opposition including funding a trade body, the Tobacco Retailers Alliance to campaign against tobacco regulation.

The ASH Counter Arguments report uses sales data to demonstrate that small retailers are not dependent on tobacco sales for their profitability. ASH surveys the views of independent tobacco retailers and in 2019 the majority of small retailers supported tobacco regulations including:

  • 61% support for prohibition of tobacco displays (26% oppose, 13% neither support/oppose or don’t know)
  • 52% support for increasing the age of sale for cigarettes to 21 (39% oppose, 9% neither support/oppose or don’t know)
  • 51% support for standardised “plain” packaging of tobacco packs (36% oppose, 12% neither support/oppose or don’t know)

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