The To­bacco In­dus­try Post the E-Ci­garette Era

Zambian Business Times - - TECH­NOL­OGY -

My thought quickly went into ‘Oh that is lit­ter­ing’. Mu­fulira was a very clean and neat place those days. I lived in Pala Av­enue. A nice street! Gen­er­ally, there were zero pot­holes in my neigh­bor­hood. Right across our house was a park, I went to sit on a bench and breath the freshly rained on grass. It helped me to ‘breath.’ To this day I am thank­ful I didn’t smoke.

I will ad­mit, in my teens, there were times I thought smok­ing was cool but I had al­ways viewed it as not for me. Thanks in part to fam­ily. I can­not count on one hand mem­bers of my fam­ily that smoke. Ac­tu­ally, I can’t name one mem­ber of my fam­ily that smokes. Mar­i­juana? That is a dif­fer­ent story!

Be­ing a mar­keter and a data sci­en­tist, I got in­ter­ested in the to­bacco in­dus­try’s mar­ket­ing and num­bers over the years. In mar­ket­ing, there is a fa­mous mys­te­ri­ous char­ac­ter of the Marl­boro man cre­ated by marketers. It is a mar­ket­ing mas­ter class. And so, when this data came I was all too happy to learn a few things both from the mar­ket­ing and the data per­spec­tives. The data came in both text and nu­mer­i­cal for­mats. Here is the story the to­bacco in­dus­try.

At the be­gin­ning of the fifties, re­search was pub­lished show­ing a sta­tis­ti­cal link be­tween smok­ing and lung can­cer. At the same time the to­bacco in­dus­try’s own re­search be­gan to find car­cino­gens in smoke and be­gan to con­firm the re­la­tion­ship be­tween smok­ing and can­cer. This posed a se­ri­ous prob­lem for the in­dus­try: whether to ad­mit to the health prob­lems and try and find mar­ketable so­lu­tions, or whether to ba­si­cally deny ev­ery­thing.

In the face of mount­ing damn­ing ev­i­dence against their prod­uct, the com­pa­nies re­sponded by cre­at­ing doubt and con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the health risks, whilst at the same time by re­spond­ing to the grow­ing pub­lic con­cern by putting fil­ters on cig­a­rettes and promis­ing re­search into the health ef­fects of smok­ing. They lulled the smok­ing pub­lic into a false sense of se­cu­rity, be­cause, whilst this had the hall­marks of re­spon­si­ble com­pa­nies act­ing in the pub­lic in­ter­est, it was ac­tu­ally a pub­lic re­la­tions strat­egy to buy time, at the ex­pense of pub­lic health.

Many of the in­ter­nal doc­u­ments re­veal that the in­dus­try was try­ing to look re­spon­si­ble in pub­lic, but pri­vately was out to con­vince the pub­lic that smok­ing was not harm­ful.

De­spite decades of ev­i­dence to the con­trary, and mil­lions of deaths caused by to­bacco, the in­dus­try still largely main­tains that the case against the ci­garette is un­proven.

In the early fifties, re­search was pub­lished show­ing a sta­tis­ti­cal link be­tween smok­ing and lung can­cer. At the same time the in­dus­try’s own re­search be­gan to find car­cino­gens in smoke and started to con­firm the re­la­tion­ship be­tween smok­ing and can­cer.

By the late fifties in­dus­try sci­en­tists had pri­vately ac­cepted the as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween smok­ing and lung can­cer, be­liev­ing it to be one of cause and ef­fect. Thirty years later, the ma­jor­ity of the in­dus­try still pub­licly de­nies the cau­sa­tion the­ory – with one ex­cep­tion – the US man­u­fac­turer Liggett, who broke ranks in 1997, much to the dis­may of the other to­bacco ma­jors.

Be­gin­ning in the late fifties, and cer­tainly by the mid-six­ties, in­dus­try sci­en­tists were urg­ing their ex­ec­u­tives to ad­mit to the prob­lem and solve it, ar­gu­ing that there were com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­ploit. Re­search was un­der­taken into the “safe ci­garette”, but it soon fell un­der the in­flu­ence of the lawyers, who suc­cess­fully ar­gued that a com­pany could not pro­duce a “safe” prod­uct, be­cause this would im­ply that its other prod­ucts were dan­ger­ous.

Be­gin­ning in the early six­ties, in­dus­try doc­u­ments dis­cuss the ad­dic­tive na­ture of nico­tine, and recognize that the pri­mary rea­son for peo­ple to con­tinue smok­ing is nico­tine ad­dic­tion. The doc­u­ments show that the in­dus­try be­lieves nico­tine to be a drug. “We are in the busi­ness of sell­ing nico­tine - an ad­dic­tive drug” one lawyer wrote as far back as 1963. The doc­u­ments are pep­pered with state­ments about the phar­ma­co­log­i­cal or psy­chophar­ma­co­log­i­cal ef­fects of nico­tine - its ef­fect on the brain or cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem.

The first ci­garette ad­ver­tise­ments unashamedly pushed ei­ther re­duced risk, health re­as­sur­ance or even health “ben­e­fits” of smok­ing a spe­cific prod­uct. By the for­ties, these were be­ing crit­i­cized for be­ing de­cep­tive – and by the fifties the most suc­cess­ful ad­vert of the mod­ern era, the Marl­boro Man, had been born.

In the six­ties, man­u­fac­tur­ers were us­ing ad­verts to deny that their prod­ucts caused can­cer. The to­bacco in­dus­try has re­peat­edly as­serted that ban­ning ad­ver­tis­ing would be an in­fringe­ment of “com­mer­cial free speech”, but has never an­swered the crit­i­cism that much of its ad­ver­tis­ing was mis­lead­ing.

The in­dus­try main­tains that the only rea­son for ad­ver­tis­ing is to make cur­rent smok­ers switch brands, it does not af­fect over­all con­sump­tion, nor en­tice young­sters to start smok­ing. As cig­a­rettes ad­verts were banned on tele­vi­sion, first in the UK and then in the US, com­pa­nies looked to spon­sor­ship of arts and sport to cir­cum­vent the bans. They have adopted the same line for spon­sor­ship as ad­ver­tis­ing – it does not af­fect over­all con­sump­tion.

By the late fifties, through the six­ties and sev­en­ties, the in­dus­try sci­en­tists were grap­pling with try­ing to find a “safe ci­garette”. The chal­lenge was to re­duce tar lev­els for health rea­sons, whilst main­tain­ing sim­i­lar or raised nico­tine lev­els to keep cus­tomers hooked. Sci­en­tists strug­gled with the prob­lem that, al­though they should re­duce nico­tine on health grounds, too lit­tle nico­tine would help peo­ple wean them­selves off cig­a­rettes. By the late sev­en­ties, sci­en­tists were con­cerned that nico­tine would have to be re­duced so low that most smok­ers would stop smok­ing to­bacco... but that threat never ma­te­ri­al­ized.

By the mid-six­ties, con­cern over the health ef­fects of to­bacco was so great that the to­bacco com­pa­nies be­gin look­ing at al­ter­na­tive nico­tine de­liv­ery sys­tems. In­dus­try con­sul­tants and sci­en­tists warned that be­cause of car­cino­gens pro­duced by the burn­ing of to­bacco, it would never be pos­si­ble to find a com­pletely “safe” ci­garette. By the sev­en­ties, the sci­en­tists be­lieved that they could still par­tially solve the prob­lem and that a “safe” ci­garette was still the key to the in­dus­try’s fu­ture.

In the mid-six­ties, com­pa­nies be­gan us­ing am­mo­nia in its ci­garette pro­duc­tion. Am­mo­nia trans­forms nico­tine from a bound state to a free one, where it can be more rapidly ab­sorbed by the smoker. Am­mo­nia tech­nol­ogy is now widely used through the in­dus­try.

By the late six­ties com­pa­nies were con­sciously defin­ing “health ori­en­tated” cig­a­rettes which had re­duced bi­o­log­i­cal ac­tiv­ity com­pared to those termed “health re­as­sur­ance”, which were mar­keted to re­as­sure the customer about their health claims but ac­tu­ally of­fered no sig­nif­i­cant health ben­e­fit.

By the early sev­en­ties com­pa­nies were dis­cussing ‘com­pen­sa­tion’, whereby a smoker ad­justs their smok­ing pat­tern in or­der to get a spe­cific level of nico­tine – there­fore a smoker us­ing a low tar prod­uct “com­pen­sates” for the low nico­tine de­liv­ery by smok­ing more, an ef­fect not repli­cated in the of­fi­cial ma­chine mea­sure­ments. By the end of the decade, in­dus­try re­searchers were even pos­tu­lat­ing that “the ef­fect of switch­ing to a low tar ci­garette may be to in­crease, not de­crease, the risks of smok­ing”.

By the mid-sev­en­ties, sci­en­tists at the US com­pany Liggett had de­vel­oped a ci­garette with a sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced health haz­ard – how­ever the re­search was taken over by the lawyers and the prod­uct was never mar­keted.

In the early eight­ies, other com­pany re­searchers were told they could never mar­ket a “safe ci­garette” be­cause that would im­ply that other cig­a­rettes were dan­ger­ous. In the eight­ies and early nineties, Brown and Wil­liamson even started ex­am­in­ing grow­ing ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered to­bacco de­signed to dou­ble the nico­tine in the plant. Still, to­bacco com­pa­nies have re­peat­edly de­nied ma­nip­u­lat­ing the lev­els of nico­tine in cig­a­rettes.

With smok­ing rates de­clin­ing in the nineties or peak­ing in the ma­ture mar­kets of the west, the transna­tional ci­garette com­pa­nies have looked to ex­pand their in­ter­na­tional op­er­a­tions, es­pe­cially in Eastern Europe and Asia, but also Latin Amer­ica and Africa. They ex­ploited the open­ing up of coun­tries that were once closed for trade be­cause of po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, such as Cen­tral and Eastern Europe, the for­mer Soviet Union, Africa but at alarm­ing rates in Asia. Com­pa­nies used eco­nomic mus­cle – and the threat of sanc­tions - to open up coun­tries in Asia, such as Taiwan and Ja­pan. They set out to ex­ploit low smok­ing rates by women in many ar­eas.

With smok­ing rates de­clin­ing in the US & EU, they have re­cently in­tro­duced to the pub­lic as a prod­uct with the po­ten­tial to shield smok­ers from the dan­ger­ous ef­fects of Marl­boros, e-cig­a­rettes are mar­keted as a way to get your nico­tine fix with­out in­hal­ing all that lung-black­en­ing smoke that’s been di­rectly linked to can­cer and heart dis­ease.

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