Arguments and Language

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In the public health and tobacco control debates, the tobacco industry tends to use a recurring set of arguments. The same issues and the same language keep coming up in discussions on key topics such as Plain Packaging, Price and Tax and Smuggling.

Tobacco companies aim to shift the debate away from health issues - such as the dangers of smoking, nicotine causing cancer, and mortality rates - towards more emotive ones. At present they attempt to link smoking to consumer freedom in the context of civil liberties. In this framework, the smoking ban is seen as a breach of the rights of individuals and therefore discriminatory. Plain packaging and the government's health policy are viewed as unwanted interference of the so-called Nanny State, breaching privacy as well as the virtues of free enterprise. Increasingly, supporters of the tobacco industry in the blogosphere build their case based on Nanny State arguments too.

The industry uses these arguments and language in different ways, for instance in their Media Strategy, their Third Party Techniques and CSR Strategy. However, the aim remains the same: to get the message across and to disseminate ideas and arguments against the regulation of smoking, targeting the general public and lobbying decision makers.

TobaccoTactics Case Studies

The Letter to the Editor of The Telegraph, published on No Smoking Day in 2011, is a good example of the rhetoric used today. It is also a classic example of how the industry uses third party techniques, because it was signed by seemingly independent groups some of whom have tobacco industry links or have received tobacco industry funding in the past. Exactly how many still receive funding is difficult to gauge, as many do not disclose their funding.

The content of the letter is a mix of the latest industry arguments. The authors:

  • ridicule government plans
  • rail against regulation
  • picture the state as the enemy of the industry and free enterprise in general
  • defend the interests of small retailers
  • point at the risk of increased smuggling
  • undermine the credibility of the government

Consistently opponents of Tobacco Control argue for self-regulation, claiming the right to freedom of choice linked to personal responsibility should take precedent over public health concerns.

Alleged economic damage is an argument used against Plain Packaging with small shop owners as victims, while smoking bans are accused of forcing the closure of pubs. The fight against plain packaging is also fought on the grounds of intellectual property. Tobacco companies claim international regulation guarantees protection of their brand, while claiming the use of the company logo as a universal right. However, the legal battle around these issues is currently being fought in Australia. See the TobaccoTactics pages on Legal Strategy and Plain Packaging in Australia.