Lies, Damned Lies and Big Tobacco
Let me put it another way. What are 10,000 deaths a year in the UK worth?
To work this out we need to remember that one of the warning labels appearing on cigarette packs amusingly states ‘Smoking kills’. More precisely, smoking kills about 100,000 people each year in the UK. Now, British American Tobacco (BAT), whose CEO is the above-named Mr Durante, has a 10% share of the market so that means BAT is responsible for the deaths of 10,000 people each year in the UK. And the answer to the above intriguing question is the widely reported figure of £7.63m – this being Mr Durante’s 2016 salary, or ‘compensation’ as they quaintly put it, for his company’s legalised drug (nicotine) peddling with the aforementioned hilarious result.
It seems to me there is a kind of battle going on between the forces of righteousness on the one hand and the powers of darkness on the other. I refer, of course, to the do-gooders in the tobacco control movement, those working in specialised stop-smoking clinics and other anti-smoking nazis versus those pulling in the opposite direction, namely, Big Tobacco with the collusion of governments who haven’t got the bottle to ban cigarettes.
Let me quote from BAT’s website:
Along with the pleasures of smoking, there are real risks of serious diseases such as lung cancer, respiratory disease and heart disease, and for many people, smoking is difficult to quit.
BAT’s mention of the pleasures of smoking as if it’s obvious or indisputable, is an assumption if not a downright lie. Smoking is not pleasurable or enjoyable – but it may seem so – and the implication is that smokers need to weigh the alleged pleasures they gain from smoking against the health risks. But in any case, since BAT is so honest as to spell out the dangers of smoking, let’s give them a medal – or at any rate give their CEO a £7.63m pay cheque.
Then they dig themselves deeper into the hole with their ‘four key marketing principles’ – these seem to be some kind of promises. Here they are, but these so-called principles are more honoured in the breach than the observance:
- We will not mislead about the risks of smoking.
Although they say ‘for many people smoking is difficult to quit’ I can find nothing on their website about nicotine addiction as the reason for this difficulty. This major omission could be taken as amounting to being misleading.
- We will only market our products to adult smokers.
What do they mean by market? Advertise? Promote in media targeted at adults? In reality it’s almost impossible to shield children from cigarette marketing even if it’s supposed to be aimed only at adults. In any case, there’s no better way of marketing cigarettes to children than for them merely to see an adult smoking.
- We will not seek to influence the consumer’s decision about whether or not to smoke, nor how much to smoke.
But they do! What is their marketing for if not to influence non-smokers to try smoking? And after that they don’t have to do anything because a significant proportion of people who try their first cigarette are thenceforth addicted to nicotine so they feel compelled to go on smoking for years or even for the rest of their lives.
- It should always be clear to our consumers that our advertising originates from a tobacco company and that it is intended to promote the sale of our tobacco brands.
This contradicts BAT’s key marketing principle number 3.
Tobacco companies claim that their marketing is not intended to encourage young people to start smoking but to persuade established adult smokers to change brands. So that’s all right then. This is disingenuous. Do smokers find themselves always in a pickle, thinking, ‘That’s a very persuasive advertisement for brand Y, I’ll change to it from my usual brand X.’? And if they then see an even more enticing advertisement for brand Z, do they say to themselves, ‘I must try brand Z from now on.’? Are smokers forever chopping and changing in response to the blandishments of Big Tobacco’s marketing efforts? It’s well known that smokers tend to stick with the same brand. What the marketing does achieve, however, is to keep the idea of smoking in the public eye and therefore people who wouldn’t otherwise smoke may be lured into trying it.
Now what about the pleasure(s) of smoking? Oscar Wilde in 1890 put it like this:
A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?
Time has moved on since then and any smoker can demonstrate to himself or herself that the pleasure of smoking is an illusion.
The exquisite state of being unsatisfied, however, is no illusion; it continues for the whole of a smoker’s smoking life. How to get out if it? Stop smoking!
Text © Gabriel Symonds