Tobacco lobbyism

“Everyone and everything is for sale” – a motto of the tobacco lobby and its implementation

The tobacco lobby has a lot at stake with the progress made in non-smoker protection in many countries around the world. Although newly developed markets such as China now generate a significant proportion of sales, Germany, for example, still accounted for sales of 24 billion (!) euros in the cigarettes and fine-cut tobacco segments in 2011, according to information from the Federal Statistical Office in 2012.

It is therefore well worthwhile using generous financial and human resources to influence the behavior of consumers and non-consumers of tobacco products. It has been known since 1987, when confidential documents of the tobacco giant Philip Morris were published (“Project Down Under”), that a careful distinction is made between smokers, non-smokers and “antis”. According to the tobacco lobby, the “antis” are people and institutions that act against the economic interests of the tobacco lobby, educate people about the harmfulness of smoking and passive smoking and thus cause sales problems and legislative measures.

The aim is to keep smokers loyal to the product, to keep non-smokers quiet and to isolate the “anti’s” (by discrediting them as “weirdos” and “fanatics”). The influence on the public is exerted in many different ways. The examples listed are not exhaustive; it is possible that certain activities of the tobacco industry are still beyond our knowledge.

  • Scientists are specifically “acquired”, e.g. for the study on “additives in cigarettes” carried out by the tobacco manufacturer “Philip Morris” in 2009, which did not stand up to scientific scrutiny due to falsified and manipulated results
  • Authors engaged
  • Scientific work that runs against the company’s own objectives is called into question
  • Politicians and parties are courted and financed (the “Free Drugs Party” FDP became particularly well known for this in Germany) and put under pressure (the highlight to date was the still unresolved scandal surrounding the forced resignation of John Dalli, the former EU Health Commissioner, who wanted to introduce standardized packaging for cigarettes, among other things)
  • Journalists and editors are specifically targeted (often easily recognizable by responses titles to articles about positive smoke-free news)
  • Feigned willingness to engage in dialogue. Participation in and support of information events, e.g. on the drug and smuggling problem, “Parliamentary Breakfast”, “Constituency After Work” and numerous “Cigarette Lounge” events with a feel-good character create a good basis for the acceptance of pro-tobacco arguments.
  • Associations such as the German Hotel and Restaurant Association are instrumentalized to stir up existential fears among landlords and to cultivate the lie that the loss of sales in the catering trade since 2000 is due to the non-smoker protection laws (which were only passed from 2007)
  • Broad sections of society are manipulated: Their loyal customers, the smokers, are well known to the tobacco companies thanks to many competitions, product sample promotions and sponsored events with their data and this target group is kept on the curb in a psychologically sophisticated way. Putting on a social cloak helps at all levels: just as the wolf slips into sheep’s clothing to cover up its voracious intentions, the tobacco industry likes to slip into the cloak of the social benefactor. Wherever the state neglects people or even entire groups (women’s shelters, homeless people), the tobacco industry spreads its wings and allows manipulable politicians to pay homage to it in speeches of thanks.

These and other propaganda measures are usually extremely successful. It is therefore also possible that in the EU, apart from Bulgaria, only Germany – the tobacco product market with the highest sales in the EU – continues to allow poster and cinema advertising (from 8 p.m.) for cigarettes and that finance minister Rösler, himself a doctor, can announce: decisions that go beyond the current advertising restrictions “would practically lead to a total ban on a legal product and would be constitutionally questionable from the Ministry’s point of view.” The tobacco lobby’s obfuscation strategy can be seen very clearly here: an advertising ban is not the same as a ban on sales or consumption and the advertising ban agreement with the WHO has been signed and ratified by Germany. Instead of good arguments for maintaining advertising that drives young people into certain physical addiction, there are basically untenable statements that incessantly and repeatedly unsettle voters and delight the tobacco industry.

The following infographic from the EU Parliament’s publications shows the proportion of smokers in the individual EU countries:

© European Union, [2013] – Source: European Parliament