Unless otherwise noted, information in this section comes from references 165 and 166.
The tobacco industry stoutly defends its right to advertise, and vigorously opposes any attempts to further restrict its promotions (see Chapter 14, Sections 18 and 19). It is through maintaining advertising that the industry in part maintains public credibility: once governments ban all advertising and promotion, it will be evident to the community that there really is something gravely wrong with the product. A British survey showed that 44% of smokers agreed that 'Smoking can't be really dangerous or the government would ban advertising'.(167)
Tobacco advertising promotes the notion that smoking is an acceptable and desirable activity. One former advertising leader has commented that fostering a conducive atmosphere for smoking is probably the major service derived from advertising; survival of the industry being more important in the end than brand competition.(168)
The tobacco industry uses a number of defences for its fight to continue advertising. The following are summaries of the major arguments presented by the tobacco industry in support of continued marketing practices, with critical comment.
The tobacco companies claim that advertising does not increase tobacco consumption, and does not encourage non-smokers, who by definition can have no interest in their advertising, to start smoking. Instead, advertising is inter-company competition which encourages existing smokers to change or stay with a particular brand.(33)
While this argument might have some credibility if tobacco were a product with a strictly defined or limited market (as, for example, petrol, which is only of use to car owners or drivers), it is unconvincing when applied to cigarettes. Tobacco products are advertised with themes of mass appeal like sexual success and glamour; themes which do not distinguish between smokers and non-smokers. Car manufacturers would hardly argue that their advertising is intended only for existing car owners, rather than potential first car buyers.(128)
Tobacco companies also have something of an imperative to attract new customers: since 18,920 Australians die from tobacco caused diseases each year,(169) and around 150,000 more quit smoking permanently each year,(170) it is essential that tobacco companies recruit new smokers in order to survive.
The inconsistency of the tobacco industry's argument has been exposed by the advertising industry itself. A former president and chairman of the Board of the world's second largest advertising agency has said:
In recent years the cigarette industry has been artfully maintaining that cigarette advertising has nothing to do with total sales. Take my word for it, this is complete and utter nonsense. The advertisers know it is nonsense, the industry knows it is nonsense, and I suspect, the public knows it is nonsense. I am always amused by the suggestion that advertising, a function which has been shown to increase consumption with virtually every other product, somehow miraculously fails to work for tobacco products. The industry only advances this argument to try to undermine efforts to restrict tobacco promotion.(168)More recently, an Australian marketing consultant has commented that 'it's time cigarette advertisers stopped the tripe that their advertising does not encourage people to take up smoking. Of course it does -- it is high quality advertising that does its job very well'.(171)
If advertising is simply competition between the companies for a larger share of a limited pool of customers, it would logically follow that in countries where a tobacco monopoly exists, there would be no need to advertise. This argument has in fact been put forward by one company executive(172) as a reason why bans have been enforced in some countries. However there are no bans in several other countries where the governments have tobacco marketing monopolies; for example South Korea, Thailand and Turkey: therefore the advertising in these countries could only be intended to expand the markets.
It has further been noted that since brand loyalty for cigarettes is so strong (only around 10% of smokers swapping brands in a given year), that it is unlikely that the tobacco companies would seriously allocate such large advertising budgets to the protection of such a small sub-section of their overall market.(130)
The evidence most commonly cited by the tobacco industry in Australia and internationally in support of their contention that advertising does not increase consumption is research which has appeared in a number of publications over the past decade, edited by Professor J Boddewyn and commissioned by INFOTAB (now known as the Tobacco Documentation Centre), the international tobacco industry lobby group. This research examines data from a number of different countries and concludes that advertising is not a determining factor in uptake of smoking among the young.(173,174)
A detailed critique of this research has been published in the 1989 report of the Toxic Substances Board of New Zealand.(129) In brief, the research was criticised because:
ð it gave no information on advertising expenditure before or after bans;
ð consumption and other data are not consistent with what is known from other sources; referencing is not clear on these points;
ð the presence or absence of advertising is evaluated without consideration of other consumption-determining factors, for example price of tobacco, per capita income, prevalent cultural or other attitudes, education programs etc.
The Toxic Substances Board concluded that the data presented 'were deficient and the conclusions simplistic, unjustified, erroneous and misleading'.(129)
Finally, there is some evidence that the tobacco industry itself does not believe its no-effect-on-consumption argument. In arguing against advertising bans in Australia, the industry has mobilised the support of its employees with the fear that advertising bans will reduce sales and consumption, thereby threatening their future employment.(175)
The 'legal to sell, therefore legal to advertise' argument is much used by the tobacco industry and their advertisers to defend tobacco advertising. If tobacco can be legally grown, processed and sold, why should it not be legally promoted?
The argument does two things: it makes advertising bans on tobacco products appear unreasonable and unprincipled, and throws back the challenge that if tobacco smoking is so harmful, why is it not banned?
The argument plays on an historical accident. Tobacco is only legal today because it was introduced to the community on a wide scale decades before its health dangers were understood. If tobacco smoking were discovered tomorrow, it is unlikely that any responsible government anywhere in the world would allow tobacco to be manufactured, much less advertised, but legislators cannot now outlaw a product to which a quarter of the adult population is addicted, and no-one would seriously suggest that they should. The product may be well be sold legally under certain circumstances, but it cannot be ethical to promote it when it causes so much preventable death and disability. Banning its promotion seems a reasonable middle ground.(127)
In Australia there are already products which are legally available for sale, many without prescription (mainly drugs and therapeutic goods, for example insulin and Ventolin), but which are illegal to advertise to the general public. (There are also products and services which may legally be advertised, but for which some publications refuse to carry advertising as a matter of principle: for example, 'escort services' and brothels).(166)
The argument also ignores the fact that tobacco is not sold freely in Australia. In Tasmania and Queensland (legislation pending for an increase to 18 years) it is illegal to sell tobacco to children under 16 years of age, and in Western Australia, the ACT, Victoria, New South Wales and Northern Territory, the minimum age is 18. However, all children are exposed to tobacco advertising in the same ways as are adults.
The tobacco industry frequently refers to 'freedom' when arguing for the right to advertise without restriction. The basis of this argument is that information about tobacco products should be freely available to the public, who can then make their decision whether or not to smoke. People who oppose this argument are apparently, therefore, enemies of freedom.
This argument does not take into account that:
ð The vast majority of people who smoke begin in their teens or as children. Most are confirmed users by the age of 15 or 16(176): they become users long before society accepts that they are mature enough to make decisions about issues like voting and driving. There is no guarantee that they will make a responsible decision about the use of an addictive, dangerous and costly drug.
ð It is reasonable for society, and especially children, to be free of advertising pressure to take up or use a dangerous drug of addiction.
ð Tobacco advertising is not informative for the consumer in any case. Tobacco advertisements seldom give information on price and do not include specific information on the toxic nature of the product.
Tobacco promotion in all its forms was banned in Canada during 1988. During the passage of legislation the Canadian Minister for Health, Jake Epp, commented that:
The responsible exercise of freedom of speech does not include the freedom to portray a lethal product as glamorous and socially acceptable.(166)
Another industry argument is that once tobacco advertising is banned, what will be next? Cars, sugar, alcohol, lollies? All of these things can cause harm; they will be the next target of an intrusive and over-regulating government -- the 'nanny state'.
The argument overlooks the fact that there is no threshold of safe use for tobacco products, whereas the other products listed are dangerous only when abused.
On balance, there is no doubt that advertising has some effect on influencing uptake of smoking among children, and on this basis, should be discontinued. The most compelling industry defence of advertising -- that to deny them the 'right' of advertising denies the consumer important product information -- is fatuous, given the dearth of useful product information typically provided by tobacco advertising, particularly sponsorship.