215868 Shifting the burden from corporations to the public: The tobacco industry plays a shell game with corporate social responsibility and personal responsibility

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 : 3:42 PM - 4:00 PM

Lissy C. Friedman, JD , Public Health Advocacy Institute, Northeastern University School of Law, Boston, MA
Tobacco companies use corporate social responsibility rhetoric and tactics to normalize their image and stave off further regulation and litigation by appearing to have improved their corporate behavior. Simultaneously, the industry uses the theme of personal responsibility to shift the onus for tobacco products' impact away from itself and back to the public. For instance, under the guise of corporate social responsibility, the industry runs "youth smoking prevention" programs to appear as if it is combating youth smoking, but in reality, tobacco companies deny that their pernicious, vigorous marketing has any effect on creating the problem and instead focus solely on putting more responsibility on parents and children. These programs have been found to be ineffective in preventing or diminishing youth smoking, perhaps by design, but they do introduce another generation of smokers to a tobacco industry with an with improved image. Industry sponsorship of smoking cessation information programs try to shift the responsibility to smokers, most of whom became addicted to their products as children. Meanwhile, the companies never discuss any efforts to make their products less addictive. Industry PR campaigns pertaining to secondhand smoke have denied the inherent dangers of exposure to their products and instead make the issue one of "courtesy" and "accommodation," once again shifting the responsibility away from the manufacturers to consumers and the general public. Tobacco control advocates can use these findings to denormalize the tobacco industry through counter-marketing campaigns and deny them the legitimacy they seek through their corporate social responsibility shell game.

Learning Areas:
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Describe how tobacco manufacturers use corporate social responsibility arguments and tactics to lead the public and policymakers to believe that they have become good corporate citizens while their public health-relevant behaviors remain unchanged. Explain how the tobacco industry uses personal responsibility rhetoric to shift the onus for public health from corporations back to the public. Demonstrate which specific programs and campaigns have been used to achieve this slight of hand.

Keywords: Tobacco, Tobacco Policy

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the Principal Investigator on a project examining the tobacco industry's use of corporate social responsibility tactics and rhetoric.
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.