177522 “Harm-reduced” tobacco product marketing and the notion of consumer sovereignty

Tuesday, October 28, 2008: 1:24 PM

Stacey J. Anderson, PhD , Division of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom
OBJECTIVE: To compare and contrast internal and public statements made by the tobacco industry regarding the role of marketing ostensibly “harm-reduced” tobacco products.

METHODS: Analysis of previously secret tobacco industry documents and printed news media.

RESULTS: Public statements made by tobacco companies regarding marketing ostensibly “harm-reduced” tobacco products emphasized maximizing consumer choice, response to consumer demand for safer tobacco products, and increased transparency of the product development process. Internal marketing plans reflected greater interest in the legal context of making claims for products that “may present less of a risk”. Product claims were carefully edited and worded to be non-committal for legal purposes but were found in marketing tests to be suggestive of health benefits. Testimonies of prominent health scientists were actively sought to lend an air of scientific validity while displacing the source of health claims from tobacco companies to the academic health community.

CONCLUSIONS: The tobacco industry publicly argues that, in response to consumer demand, it uses marketing to inform health-concerned consumers to help them make the best rational purchasing decisions. Internally, however, marketing is best understood as performing two main roles: 1) providing vague scientific-sounding information that consumers easily misinterpret, and 2) shielding tobacco companies from legal action regarding health claims. Transparency of corporate practices is implied but in reality health issues are obfuscated. This contradicts industry claims that marketing campaigns are designed to respond to consumer demand and points to the deceptive nature of current ostensibly “harm-reduced” tobacco product marketing.

Learning Objectives:
At the conclusion of the session, participants will be able to: 1) identify three ways in which marketing for ostensibly “harm-reduced” tobacco products can imply health benefits 2) evaluate public statements by the tobacco industry regarding ostensibly “harm-reduced” tobacco products in the context of legal restrictions on health claims 3) argue that current ostensibly “harm-reduced” tobacco product marketing is meant to serve the social and legal interests of the tobacco industry rather than the health interests of consumers

Keywords: Marketing, Tobacco Industry

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the sole investigator and author. PhD social psychology; postdoctoral fellowship tobacco control policy research; faculty position epidemiology and public health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.