Like many other people, I’m sure, I’ve become rather fascinated with the tobacco companies that people like me are supposed to be in league with. So I was rather intrigued several weeks back when I heard from someone who had actually worked in a tobacco company for several years, who was offering to answer a few of the questions that I (and several of my commenters) had been asking about them. The following set of questions and answers were the result, and I was also required to disguise the author’s highly distinctive style of writing – which meant taking the word ‘Jimmy’ out of almost every sentence (I hope I’m not giving anything away there), and to point out that these represent just one person’s opinions from working in an industry in which ideas and attitudes can change very rapidly.
So here’s the result. Deep Smoke speaks:
What is the attitude of tobacco companies to their customers? Indifference /contempt /concern?
Like any other company, they want to make money. This can’t be done if you’re indifferent to or feel contempt for your customers. So they actually care a lot what their customers want. Research and surveys are often done, where it’s legal anyway, in order to understand what adult smokers like. I’ll just add that a lot of time and money is spent on trying to prevent kids from smoking and also that none of the products target children. Modern big tobacco company do indeed care very much about youth smoking prevention. Forty years ago, it may have been different, but now big tobacco is ultimately trying to give adults a product that they’ll want to buy.
What is their attitude to their product? Love it/hate it?
Depends who you ask. The best way to answer this is to say that the people who work for tobacco companies generally feel that adults should make their own choices. Everyone knows there are risks associated with tobacco use. As you might expect there are plenty of non-smokers that work for tobacco companies and while they may be passionate about working for the company and allowing adults to make their own choices, they can still be completely against smoking themselves. Some have no compunction about telling people to quit smoking. Overall, I would think the vast majority of employees are somewhat indifferent to the product. Some are very passionate about it. The big push these days is for harm reduction. Can cigarettes be made safer?
What is their attitude to the antismoking research of the past half century? Belief/disbelief?
It’s a mixture. Most of the research done by Tobacco Control is inaccurate and unscientific, and easily debunked by truly independent research. Except that when it is debunked, of course the media pay it no attention. They quote the false research as if it were fact. You can well imagine how frustrating that is. Some of the research is factual and evidence-based, but the facts and results are then distorted to support the particular agenda of tobacco control.
What is their attitude to the ever-encroaching nanny state? Indifference/deep concern?
They’re very concerned. And also they have a grim sense of resignation that the nanny state will win the long term battle.
They think it is because history shows that it’s what happens time and again. Yet people fail to remember history, and history duly repeats itself. Prohibition is cyclical. It swings into popular favour for a time, and then it swings out of favour. Everything is cyclical to some extent.
The people in charge of tobacco companies have to answer to their stakeholders and shareholders. They have to show a profit. Business is always about making money. I can’t underline that enough. And that’s true for both sides in this war. The antis want to make money just as much as the tobacco companies do. The difference is that the antis are trying to control our lives. Tobacco companies are at least honest in that they just want you to buy their tobacco. The problem with tobacco companies is too much focus on the short term gains, not enough focus on the long term view. They haven’t won any major battles for a decade. It’s kinda like being in a losing football team. You know you’re gonna lose most of the time, but you keep playing just for the money.
I’d be interested to know if the tobacco majors:
1) Routinely visit pro-smoking sites like mine?
No. Tobacco companies routinely monitor sites that are illegally selling their wares or using their trade marks on other products (like cigarette cases, t-shirts, etc.) On the other hand, the marketing departments are constantly looking out for new sources of inspiration, trying to get a feel for what adults want. But they aren’t visiting pro-smoking sites. They will see what other companies are doing, what is popular, and see if that can be used. It’s about appealing to the market. For instance, Russians love anything that is technological, so you’ll see brands with hi-tech packs. It really IS NOT about getting kids to smoke. It’s about getting smokers to switch to their brands.
2) If so do they use humans or do they use robots?
Humans. Lots of humans. It’s legwork, essentially. Mainly law firms, but also internal legal departments, too. Most of the investigative work is done by the anti-counterfeit / illicit trading groups. Those guys work with the police to shut down the counterfeiters. They actually go on raids, sometimes. The anti-counterfeit groups usually inform the legal groups.
3) What, if anything, do they do with any information gained?
Nothing, unless someone’s breaking the law. There really isn’t enough hours in a day to do all that needs to be done. It’s a busy environment. Imagine dealing with the laws in every country of the world every day, trying to work out what you can and can’t do, or an endless barrage of lawsuits. It’s not easy. The legal bills for tobacco companies are enormous.
4) Does your contact have any juicy stuff on the antis?
No. Only that all of the antis own stocks in tobacco companies so that they can disrupt shareholder meetings, which they do regularly. Also, the ASH protests are usually only 6 or 7 people, mainly kids, or their family members and friends. There is no real public support for tobacco control activism. The antis are not a large group. It’s a selection of about twelve key people in the UK, and maybe another 100 or so worldwide, not including the WHO of course. The WHO drives almost all of the activism. But I do think that TC has family and friends who work in the media, or has something to do with journnalists in the media…. so if you wonder why the media is always against us, this could be a reason…..
And the question I didn’t ask.
Why are Big Tobacco losing? I think the reason why it’s difficult for Big T to win any battles against TC is because all of the companies are fighting each other instead. There is a long history of animosity between all of the companies, big and small. If only they could come together for a short time and agree on a strategy, things might actually go their way. But they can’t. Each company has a different take on how to deal with TC, and they won’t budge an inch, and they ultimately undermine each other in the process, trying to get an increased market share. That is the most frustrating thing and it is the nature of all businesses unfortunately. Which is one reason the fight against the display ban was given up.
I’m sure that if anyone has any other questions, Deep Smoke would be more than happy to answer them to the best of his/her ability.
If you have any questions, please write them in blue ink and put them inside a seemingly-discarded packet of Pall Mall Blue, and carefully wedge it between the railings outside Number 22, Lansdowne Crescent, Kensington, London between 1:30 am and 1:45 am on Thursday nights, before walking briskly away without looking back.
Or alternatively, should that prove to be slightly inconvenient, leave them in the comments below, and we’ll see if we can get someone to drop them off there.