Tobacco companies’ deceitful campaign to profit from the health crisis for which they are responsible

The world’s biggest tobacco and nicotine product companies – responsible for a public health crisis that kills up to 8 million people around the world every year and gets kids hooked on nicotine – are mounting a campaign to position themselves as the solution to the very health emergency they have caused. Share now to warn your community.

The world’s biggest tobacco and nicotine product companies – responsible for a public health crisis that kills up to 8 million people around the world every year and gets kids hooked on nicotine – are mounting a campaign to position themselves as the solution to the very health emergency they have caused. But the tobacco companies’ claims to be concerned with health, to be creating a smoke-free future, and to be unrolling solutions and products to reduce harm from tobacco and nicotine use are really a cynical smokescreen designed to divert attention from their true goals: To maximize profits by perpetuating addiction.

The tobacco industry is desperately fighting to preserve long-term profits from addictive products

The tobacco industry strategy to confuse policy makers and others about the true solutions to tobacco and nicotine use is centered around the marketing and sale of so-called “harm reduction” products, including heated cigarettes and electronic cigarettes. Make no mistake: these products are not safe. They contain a long list of harmful chemicals and, because they contain nicotine, are highly addictive. They are also being marketed to youth.

The tobacco industry’s deceitful marketing campaign – led by companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco – to push products like electronic and heated cigarettes is comprehensive and includes the marketing of misleadingly advertised reduced risk products; partnerships with otherwise reputable media; publication of papers in journals; funding for front groups and allies like the Foundation for a Smoke-free World to help make the tobacco companies seem more credible; alliances with associations such as pro-vapers; and even the acquisition of pharmaceutical technology companies. The tobacco industry is even orchestrating attacks against public health champions and government officials who are dedicated to saving lives by supporting proven tobacco control policies. All of these tactics are billed as promoting or advancing the tobacco companies’ false health goals.

Perhaps worst of all, tobacco companies are marketing their so-called “harm reduction” products to children in a massive global marketing campaign using social media. One tactic in this campaign is using trusted social media influencers to entice young people to try addictive nicotine products. When youth are the targets of addictive products, it becomes perfectly clear that the tobacco industry is not interested in improving public health.

Credible health experts are succeeding at reducing death and illness from tobacco use, despite obstruction from tobacco companies

On the other hand, governments around the world have made tremendous progress in passing and implementing proven polices that are working to reduce tobacco use. These policies are contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and their implementation is successfully turning the tide of the global tobacco epidemic. The only reason these policies are not working better is because the tobacco companies are interfering in the implementation of strong tobacco control laws, confusing public discussion about the best ways to reduce tobacco use, and actively working to get people addicted to new tobacco and nicotine products.

And while tobacco companies are working hard to make themselves appear concerned with health, they remain cigarette companies first and foremost, deriving the majority of their profits from cigarettes by aggressively marketing them to consumers including youth.

The tobacco industry’s “harm reduction” strategy is actually not harm reduction at all – according to actual harm reduction experts

It is obvious that what the tobacco industry is pushing is not harm reduction at all. Properly administered, a harm reduction approach to reduce the use of harmful addictive products, like illicit drugs or tobacco products, can help people to stop using these products and reduce their health risk. To be successful, a harm reduction strategy needs to be overseen by health or governmental agencies whose only interest is to reduce harm.

The industry’s global public relations offensive is inconsistent with genuine harm reduction and prioritizes maintaining and even expanding its customer base over reducing the number of people using tobacco. The tobacco companies’ products have not been subject to rigorous scientific review by government agencies who conclude that there is strong evidence that the alternative product will reduce a person’s health risk under the conditions that the products will be used; they are not provided only to specific populations that are already addicted to tobacco and nicotine; they usually are not subject to safeguards to ensure that the alternative product does not encourage or enable people who are not already tobacco and nicotine products or who have previously quit using them to start; and they are not distributed by health or governmental officials whose goal is to treat or reduce harm to the individuals who use tobacco and nicotine.

There are safe, evidence-based ways to help smokers quit. These methods include counseling, quit lines, and medicinally approved nicotine replacement therapies, among others.

The real health champions must ignore tobacco companies’ misleading claims

Governments – including those in low- and middle-income countries where 80% of the world’s smokers live – should disregard the tobacco industry’s current public relations push and continue to progress in passing and implementing the evidence-based policies contained in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Health advocates must continue to support governments in implementing these policies and bring the companies’ deceptive “harm reduction” marketing to governments’ attention. When it comes to electronic cigarettes, heated cigarettes, nicotine pouches and other nicotine products, governments should proactively regulate them in ways that maximize their potential to reduce risk and help consumers entirely quit tobacco and nicotine, and governments must ensure that they are not marketed or sold to youth.

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