Much smoke; can’t see the mirrors

My name is John Blauth and I am a smoker. It is 26 years since I last smoked a cigarette. Not a day goes by that I do not crave Lady Nicotine’s caress and comfort. I cope with calorie excess.
Blauth blog 24:05:16

I did not start to smoke because of advertising and the tobacco companies’ other marketing activities. I smoked because I enjoyed everything about it. I smoked because I grew up in a smoking culture – parents, teachers, most adults and peers.

I stopped smoking because a combination of physical manifestations one bright spring morning led me, a fully qualified hypochondriac, to suppose that I had third-stage lung cancer and would be dead by lunchtime. The final denouement of my smoking life was to pass the remaining nine packets of my beloved Davidoff cigarettes and an heirloom Dunhill lighter to a colleague whose morning was less dramatic.

Social pressures have changed the way we look at smoking. It is a given that tobacco companies lied for years, and rigged laboratory tests, about the incredibly addictive nature of nicotine and about the deadly effects that combustion of cigarettes had, and has, on lungs and hearts. One of the most profitable scams they pulled off was called ‘Low Tar’.

British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco Group are still massive corporations, both in the blue-chip high cap FTSE 100, despite smoking’s apparent slow death.

It is impossible to detect from the communications issued by the tobacco giants how or why their profits remain so healthy despite the fact that the number of people who smoke in the UK alone has fallen by half over the past 30 years.

In 2002 the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act effectively meant that overt tobacco marketing moved from posters and pages in your media of choice to below the line.

Says ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) “This typically includes packaging, public relations, sales promotions and trade discounts for the promotion of particular brands. This latter technique known as ‘push promotion’ involves advertising to sellers and wholesalers, giving retailers financial incentives and offering prizes and competitions around specific products. Other forms of below the line marketing include ‘buzz marketing’ and ‘experiential marketing’.

One of the areas in which the tobbaco giants have recently invested is the e-fag business. Vaping, an effective way for some smokers to stop traditional burning methods of nicotine ingestion, is an equally effective way for tobacco companies to ensure that smokers remain addicted.
The science is clear: smoking kills human cells in all your breathing processes. It kills them more slowly via heating (e-cigs) than it does via burning (traditional cigs) but kill them it does. This is not completely clear in the public mind despite, or should that be because of, the incredibly effective communications machines that lie behind the tobacco companies’ success.
As an ex-user of combustible cigarettes I am, of course, a non-smoking zealot. I understand the physical craving of smokers and even more the peaceful joy that comes from a post-prandial ciggie; and if I can’t then neither should anyone else!

I am equally zealous about the need for companies to tell the truth so that consumers can make their own judgments. There is no need to lecture folk about the dangers of smoking; but there is a clear need to make e-cigarette users aware that many of the long-term effects of vaping are unknown and to highlight the known risks – maintenance of addiction and irreversible airway damage for starters – as they become apparent.

All of which makes me consider: is there a moral dimension that needs to be considered when communicating to consumers? And does that moral dimension mean telling the whole truth, not just part of it?

A two-pipe problem as Sherlock Holmes so eloquently put it.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 24 May