THE BURDEN OF ILLNESS FROM TOBACCO USE
It is possible that 1 out of 3 teenagers will start in the consumption of tobacco influenced by direct or indirect ads, through the sponsorship of sporting activities, parties, gifts, or by certain media leaders (actors, musicians, artists …) who are shown smoking in movies, concerts or interviews (Pierce, 1998, p511).
Tobacco advertising has been misleading and recently the industry has publicly acknowledged that the tobacco cause harm, and that consumption of cigarettes is highly addictive (but without actually admitting it is a drug). Tobacco publicity is perverted and at the same time technically perfect. Tobacco companies intend to sell the idea that consumption of cigarettes is an exercise of freedom and independence and a symbol of transition to adulthood. They try to associate the image of the cigarette to the social success or winners. The present paper analyzes the ethical issues in relation to the ban on all forms of tobacco advertising and sponsorship. Furthermore, this essay will argue the importance on the total ban on advertising practices of tobacco. Finally, I will propose a strategic advocacy plan which may support the total ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship.
Tobacco is a product that not only is still producing and selling, but it is announced in bulk in any media or advertising space. In fact, in our present society snuff and advertising are closely tied, this close relationship means that there are some ethical situations that may be caused by the acceptance or banning ads from the tobacco industry.
Supporters of tobacco advertising argue that the tobacco must have the same rights of equivalence in relation to other retail product and services, and note that the restrictions or bans in promoting their products incurs on unjust and discriminatory actions (Chapman, 1996, p122 ). Most often the information presented in tobacco advertisings is misleading and this undoubtedly represents an unethical action because there is no mention of the price and a detailed description of the harms that the may cause.
The exercise of selectivity in constructing advertisings is misleading to consumers because it does not fully describe every possible facet of the product and consequence of it use. Tobacco advertisings are lying when they try to promote their products because most of the time the advertisements contain positive associations about tobacco, smoking and smokers (Chapman 1996, p 124). It is well known the impacts on health that can arise from the consumption of tobacco, but tobacco companies continue or insist on presenting a positive image when promoting their products.
Tobacco industry construct advertisements designed to mock, distract and generally undermine such health warnings (Chapman 1996, p 125). This action is certainly seen as an unethical act and the omission of information would result in consumers being mislead.
“Defenders of tobacco advertising tend to assume a free market philosophy where restrictions on advertising are seen as ethically offensive to the sovereignty of business interests” (Chapman, 1996, p127). However, governments have the right to implement restrictions and bans on advertising as they must protect consumers from unsafe goods and thus avoid promoting unhealthy products to the community.
Despite the arguments of the tobacco industry, various researchers have found that advertising is an important factor in the consumption of tobacco among children and adolescents (Gilpin et al, 1997, p 1229). For example, Biener et al, have shown that the probability of adolescent who do not smoke and that received a promotional item provided by tobacco companies, become smokers twice compared with those who had not received it (Biener et al, 2000, p407). Indeed, such is the power that advertising can accumulate that it is essential the restrictions or bans from a legislative point of view, to prevent possible misuses of it.
Prompted by the alarming rates in morbidity and mortality associated with smoking, its social health cost and the emergence of the first evidence that linked the effects of tobacco advertisings on the role of consumption, several countries began to put restrictions on such advertisings. Ruth Roemer’s 1993 Current cited by Chapman (1996, p121) mention that 27 countries in the world have a complete ban on tobacco advertising, with a further 77 having some form of restriction.
Tobacco companies have always avoided any reference to the problems that tobacco creates. The sponsorship of events of interest (preferably sporting), the financing of films and television programs with the condition that their players smoke (looking for the effect that this model can cause), are some examples of strategies implemented by the tobacco industry which main goal is to promote their products. By this actions, tobacco advertising is dressed of innocence aiming to avoid, at least on paper, some of the bans imposed to their products.
The relationship between sport and tobacco began more than a century ago, when in cigarette packs of England and America appeared the myths of the moment in cricket or baseball (Holman et al, 1997, p115). Since then many athletes have lent their image for this advertisements and have sponsored many sporting activities by large companies. This interest was focused in those sports that have become more attractive (and therefore a wider audience) for the general population. Among them, racing motorcycles and cars have always occupied a central target for the tobacco industry. With these investments, tobacco companies pursue several goals: to reach potential consumers, associate tobacco for promotional purposes to the innate values of sport, wash their image challenged by society, and get profits.
Marlboro, a Philip Morris brand, has been a long-time sponsor of Formula One (F1) and Indy Car racing as part of a deliberate project to complement and extend the brand’s established “lone cowboy” image with contemporary sports (Dewhirst et al, 2003, p372). “A single grand prix provides the equivalent of about fifty 30second cigarette advertisements, and children’s recall of brand imagery is high” (Chambers, 1999, p1). This is why tobacco companies are seeking to sponsor sporting events of great magnitude in order to promote their products and incur in unethical behaviors.
It is clear that by its very nature, advertising tends to seek the maximum expansion of the sales of a product, in order to maintain the productive machinery that sustains the product. In this context, the tobacco industry is trying to defend the maintenance of its advertising through the following arguments:
• If tobacco is a legal product, their promotion should remain legal.
• Advertising on tobacco is not designed to influence the overall demand of the product, but to redistribute the market between the different brands.
• Advertising is directed only to the adult population as a consumer, not to childhood or adolescents.
• Advertising provides consumers with relevant information about the brands offered in the market and, therefore it is an effective tool of information to consumers.
Finally, there is evidence in the literature that supports the restriction or prohibition on tobacco advertising produced by the industry. I think it is necessary to continue these actions, countries that still do not take these actions must consider the implementation of actions that restrict the promotion of tobacco. It is important to ban any direct or indirect promotion of tobacco products in all media including the Internet. Sporting events sponsored by the tobacco industry should not display advertisements during these events, because the sport is a common good for society and the promotion of cigarette poses a health risk for the community.
By Oscar Millan-Iturbe, M.D./M.P.H.
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