255412 “The Big Why”: A tobacco product manufacturer's failed search for corporate social value

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 : 10:30 AM - 10:50 AM

Ruth Malone, RN, PhD, FAAN , Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Patricia McDaniel, PhD , Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Tobacco company corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives function as tobacco marketing, inhibit effective tobacco control, and constitute efforts to normalize tobacco companies. Yet it is challenging to explain to the public and policymakers why tobacco company CSR is problematic. Drawing on an interpretive analysis of 150 internal tobacco company documents, we explored how a CSR initiative was viewed within a tobacco manufacturer. Contradictions were raised when executives sought to identify the company's social value, its “positive contribution to society.” A high-level executive task force considered dramatically changing the way they marketed tobacco, apologizing for past actions, and committing the company to providing benefits for future generations. These ideas, however, were eventually abandoned. Despite an initial call to distinguish between social and economic value, social value was ultimately equated with providing shareholder returns, re-stating as a “social value” all corporations' standard fiduciary obligation. Our study shows that even within tobacco companies, cigarette promotion can no longer be understood as “business as usual.” When even tobacco executives struggle to define their company's social value, it signals a social shift: an opening to advocate for supply-side changes appropriate to the scale of the tobacco disease epidemic and consistent with authentic social value.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
1. Describe a tobacco product manufacturer's efforts to restore legitimacy through a corporate social responsibility initiative. 2. Evaluate the success of these efforts. 3. Assess the implications for tobacco control strategies.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the principal investigator of the grant which funded the research on which the presentation is based; I also reviewed documents and edited and revised all drafts of the paper on which this presentation is based.
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.