Passive smoking is at the forefront of current debate over smoking. The tobacco industry was made aware of the importance of this issue several years before it came into public prominence: in 1978 the US Tobacco Institute commissioned a major survey on future directions for the industry, and chief among its findings was the community's growing perception that smoking might be harmful to the health of others.(149) This meant that the health effects of smoking would be of considerable concern to everyone: no longer could smokers be said to harm only themselves.
The report identified the passive smoking issue as 'the most dangerous development to the viability of the tobacco industry that has yet occurred', and went on to suggest that 'The strategic and long run antidote to the passive smoking issue is, as we see it, developing and widely publicising clear-cut, credible, medical evidence that passive smoking is not harmful to the non-smoker's health'.(149) Since then it has become evident that this report has done much to shape tobacco industry tactics to suppress, divert and confuse the passive smoking debate. The US tobacco industry's efforts to derail the US Environmental Protection Agency's damning report on the health effects of passive smoking are well documented.(150)
The issue of passive smoking threatens the tobacco industry on three fronts. First, as noted above, it has transformed smoking into a major public health problem of concern to the entire community (see Chapter 4). Second, it has given rise to successful workers' compensation cases, causing widespread introduction of smoking restrictions in workplaces and public places (see Chapter 6). Third, these ever increasing restrictions have a direct effect on tobacco consumption and hence sales, with serious financial implications for the tobacco companies.(151,152)
Australian research has shown that the introduction of workplace smoking restrictions in the Australian Public Service has significantly reduced consumption among smokers.(153) Although light smokers did not alter their usual consumption, moderate smokers reduced by an average of 5.8 cigarettes per day (a 29.1% drop in usual consumption), and heavy smokers by an average of 7.9 cigarettes (a 26.6% drop). Allowing for a small amount of compensatory smoking measured during work breaks and immediately before and after work, each smoker averaged a reduction in consumption of 5.2 cigarettes on working days.
Extrapolating this fall in consumption to the broader Australian workforce, and assuming that 90% of indoor workplaces introduce a smokefree environment, a total slump in consumption of 1,218.3 million cigarettes per annum could be expected. At 1992 prices, each cigarette cost around 14 cents, representing an annual loss of around $170 million dollars in retail sales, and an annual profit loss of over $73 million to the tobacco industry.(152) Losses would be all the greater if smoking bans on aeroplanes and other forms of public transport, and in other public places were also considered.(151) It is also likely that workplace bans would initiate quitting, assist those attempting to quit, and reduce uptake rates.(151)
The tobacco industry has anticipated these outcomes. In 1978 a President of the US tobacco company RJ Reynolds said that if anti-smoking measures 'caused every smoker to smoke just one less cigarette a day, our company would stand to lose $92 million in sales annually. I assure you that we don't intend to let that happen without a fight'.(151) His view was reiterated in 1990 by the Director of the Asian Tobacco Council (the tobacco industry lobby group for that region) who stated that '... the danger is that if you reduce the opportunities for a smoker to smoke, through private or public smoking restrictions, then there is, inevitably, a resultant decline in personal consumption. This undoubtedly affects the bottom line'.(154) See also Chapter 6, Section 10.
The Tobacco Institute of Australia (TIA) has distributed a range of literature concerning workplace smoking policies. Earlier versions suggested that bans on smoking were potentially divisive and discriminatory, employers were under no legal obligation to ban smoking in the workplace, and presupposed that passive smoking was merely an aggravation and no danger to public health.(155)
A more recent and far more cautiously-worded publication frequently emphasises the disclaimer that opinions expressed are those of the TIA(156) (rather, presumably, than those of mainstream medical opinion). The document attempts to cast doubt on the current standing of scientific and medical knowledge regarding the health effects of ETS, provides an opinion on legal issues, and recommends 'that employers adopt work-place smoking policies which take account of the wishes and health of employees, the desire of some employees to smoke at work, the adequacy of ventilation and air-conditioning and the need for some areas to be smokefree'.(155)
The TIA has also appealed for information concerning pending legal cases relating to smoking, or exposure to tobacco smoke. In an unsolicited information package distributed to employers, the TIA asked recipients to provide details of any cases they may be involved in regarding a tobacco related claim, offering, in return, briefing documents on legal, medical and scientific issues, and the promise of further specialised assistance should it be required.(157)
In an effort to discredit medical research concerning the health effects of passive smoking, the TIA has lodged advertisements in the mainstream press.
In 1985 the Institute placed a four-page advertisement in the Australian Women's Weekly entitled 'Do you mind if I smoke?'.(158) The advertisement purported to represent the facts about passive smoking, and its layout made it appear like a feature article typical of the Weekly. At the head of the advertisement there was a small headline saying 'A Shareplan Promotion' and at the foot, four pages later and in fine print 'inserted in the interests of fair and open discussion by the Tobacco Institute of Australia Ltd.' The information on passive smoking which the advertisement put forward was not in accordance with medical findings reported by mainstream medical and health organisations at the time.
A number of complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Council (ASC) on the grounds that the advertisement was misleading in content and presentation. The ASC ruled that it was indeed misleading in presentation (in that it was not sufficiently clearly labelled as advertising matter) but did not rule on the content, this being outside their jurisdiction. Although the Weekly and the TIA were admonished by the ASC, no punitive action was taken: they were not fined, nor were they required to apologise, or publish corrective copy.
In the following year, the TIA lodged two half-page advertisements in major Australian newspapers.(159) The advertisements selectively quoted a number of sources, including the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society, giving the impression that these bodies did not support the view that passive smoking is harmful to health. Among other things, one of the advertisements declared that 'there is little evidence and nothing which proves scientifically that cigarette smoke causes disease in non-smokers.'
The advertisement was reported to the Advertising Standards Council and the Trade Practices Commission (TPC) because of its misleading nature. The TPC ruled that the advertisement was misleading, and the TIA undertook not to repeat the advertisement and to insert corrective copy. The TIA duly inserted a carefully constructed advertisement which neither indicated the grounds on which the original advertisement was misleading nor corrected the original errors.(160)
The Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations subsequently took action against the TIA in the Federal Court commencing in June 1987, on the grounds that the TIA's 1986 advertisement was in breach of the Trade Practices Act. This case resulted in a landmark judgement against the TIA, in which Justice Morling concluded that there is scientific proof that passive smoking causes lung cancer, respiratory disease in children and attacks of asthma. This case, the TIA's subsequent appeal, and its implications are discussed in full in Chapter 6, Section 3.
In the United States, advertisements have recently been placed by the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company which seek to allay concerns about exposure to 'secondhand smoke'. RJ Reynolds has clearly learned from the TIA's experience. The company is at pains to point out that it is offering an opinion rather than a statement of fact, presumably to divert any accusation of misleading the public. RJ Reynolds also states that 'common sense should tell everyone not to expose very young children to high levels of secondhand smoke'.(161)
'Sick building syndrome' is an umbrella term generally used to apply to the development of a range of symptoms thought to be caused by exposure to the indoor environment. There are a number of causes of indoor air pollution, of which the major source is tobacco smoke.(162,163) However 'sick building syndrome' has been embraced by the tobacco industry as a means of deflecting unwanted attention from the issue of smoking in the workplace. They have used it to focus concern on the role of other agents in contributing to indoor air pollution, thereby removing tobacco smoke from the spotlight.(164)
In 1987 the TIA commissioned an American company, ACVA Pacific Pty Ltd, to report on indoor air pollution in a number of office buildings in Sydney and Melbourne. ACVA reported that ventilation, filtration and hygiene problems were responsible for causing 'sick buildings', ascribing any part played by tobacco smoke in the causation of ill health as minimal.(165) The TIA held a number of seminars on the subject, to which senior public servants, opinion leaders, and journalists were invited. The seminars also provided a briefing on the legal position regarding smoking in the workplace, and a summary of medical evidence which disputed the links between passive smoking and disease.(166) It has since been revealed that ACVA (now known as Healthy Buildings International) was permanently retained by the US Tobacco Institute to represent its interests in the public arena, while ostensibly providing independent opinion.(167)
See also Chapter 3, Section 11 for further discussion about 'sick building syndrome'.
As noted above, the establishment of smokers' rights organisations to counter the activities of anti-smoking groups is a component of tobacco industry lobbying. Smokers' rights organisations set up in Australia include FOREST ('Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco') and Fair Go. FOREST was set up in Victoria in the mid 1980s, when passive smoking was starting to receive serious and sustained media and public attention. Smokers were told that:
by supporting FOREST you can support the interests of all smokers in Australia. You can have your say with State and Federal governments, transport operators, advertisers, newspapers, radio and television and, through FOREST, you can let them all know you are tired of being pushed around and that the 3,500,000 adult smokers in Australia have had enough.
Fair Go was a group which emerged in New South Wales in the late 1980s specifically to counter smoking bans on NSW trains, then widening its interests to embrace smokers' rights in general. In Western Australia in 1993, an organisation called the Tobacco Smokers Freedom Movement Inc was established, offering a regular price discount on cigarettes purchased through an overseas supplier (enabling avoidance of state licence fees), as well as information about smoking originating from other groups or individuals supported by the tobacco industry. The Tobacco Smokers Freedom Movement Inc plans to raise funds by selling on its mailing list to other relevant organisations and businesses, and to apply these funds to legal advice and information gathering, as well as distributions to its membership. The Movement intends to publicly campaign for tax changes and smokers' rights, and to work to 'enlighten the majority of people who are fed false propaganda by the various government sponsored non-smoking organisations'.(168,169)
The funding of these groups has been shrouded in uncertainty, FOREST admitting that its British namesake received financial assistance from the tobacco industry,(170) while Fair Go claimed to depend on memberships and donations, without specifically denying tobacco industry support.(171) The Tobacco Smokers Freedom Movement Inc claims to be a non-profit organisation, 'working for the interests of Australia's smoker-drinkers'.(168) Certainly the overseas organisations have been allied with tobacco companies, the companies being instrumental in establishing them and providing support materials through their direct mail networks.(172)
Not surprisingly, smokers' rights groups typically advance the standard views of the tobacco industry: that passive smoking is not harmful to health, that the issue of passive smoking can be easily solved through 'common sense' and 'courtesy'; that bans on smoking are unjustified and discriminatory, and that smokers are a minority unfairly set upon by overzealous social engineers who wish to impose their own standards upon the entire community.
The health lobby and smokers' rights groups have one point of agreement, and that is that adults have a right to smoke. Where they diverge is that health groups maintain that the non-smoker also has the fundamental and pre-eminent right to smokefree air, and that smokers have the right to accurate information about the health consequences of smoking for themselves and those around them. Inasmuch as the tobacco industry deliberately misleads its customers about the nature of the products it sells, it could be cogently argued that the tobacco industry has a scant regard for the true interests of smokers.
Finally, it is worth noting that restrictions on smoking do not relate to a factor inherent to a person, such as sex, colour or class, but to an activity in which a person may or may not choose to engage. Laws restricting smoking are no more discriminatory than those concerning, for example, alcohol use under particular circumstances(173) (see also Chapter 6, Section 10).
In an attempt to diffuse argument about smoking in public places, the tobacco industry has promoted 'courteous' smoking.(158,174)
In FOREST's promotional literature, among the rallying calls to smokers tired of 'all the anti-smoking propaganda', courteous smoking is also advised. It is suggested that smokers ask others if they mind before lighting up, that they take care not to litter with empty packs, and to desist from smoking if politely asked.(170) (However Australian research has suggested that courtesy may be overrated -- see Chapter 6, Section 10).
Overseas, tobacco companies have also sought to influence smoker behaviour.(175,176) In 1991, American company RJ Reynolds launched a summer campaign to encourage smokers to dispose of cigarette butts and packaging properly, using billboards and bumper stickers with the slogan 'Don't leave your butt on the beach'. Portable ashtrays (foil-lined pouches) have also been used, bearing brand advertising and the slogan 'smokers care'.(172)
Let's remember that garlic, pepper, pollen, burning off, loud radios, barking dogs and the crying baby next door cause some people discomfort and irritate us all from time to time. Is it really preferable to legislate against these annoyances when commonsense, tolerance and common courtesy provide simpler solutions?
Statements like this, which appeared in the advertisement placed by the Tobacco Institute of Australia in the Australian Women's Weekly in 1985,(158) are intended to trivialise the effects of environmental tobacco smoke by equating it with a number of odours and sounds which, while irritating, could hardly be said to be a cause of death and disease. Ranking environmental tobacco smoke as a nuisance no more consequential than the sound of a barking dog or the smell of garlic ignores the fact that passive smoking constitutes a measurable health risk.