August 10, 2018

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Tobacco company strategies to identify and promote the benefits of nicotine

Pam Ling and I just published “Tobacco company strategies to identify and promote the benefits of nicotine” in Tobacco Control.  In this paper, we used previously secret tobacco industry documents to show how the tobacco companies have worked for decades to promote the myth than nicotine does not have any adverse effects and, in fact, has benefits.  We are hearing echoes of these efforts in the current discussions about nicotine, with much of this thinking implicit in the FDA’s nicotine policy.

Hopefully, as people and policymakers develop more sophisticated understanding of the industry’s role in promoting these ideas, they will move beyond this obsolete thinking.

Here is the abstract:

Background In response to a changing regulatory and consumer landscape, tobacco companies developed new strategies to promote cigarettes and smoking. We examined one of these strategies: to fund and conduct scientific research related to potential benefits of nicotine, and to use their findings to promote nicotine.

Methods Qualitative analysis of previously secret tobacco industry documents from the Truth (formerly Legacy) Tobacco Documents Library ( industrydocuments.library. ucsf. edu/ tobacco), triangulated with data from other sources, including the online search engine Google, from the 1970s to December 2017.

Results After publication of the 1988 Surgeon General’s report on nicotine addiction, tobacco companies (particularly RJ Reynolds) intensified efforts to promote the benefits of nicotine while downplaying its addictiveness and health risks. Activities included building relationships with academic institutions and funding scientific studies of the benefits of nicotine on cognition and other performance areas through intramural and extramural programmes. Companies then promoted their research findings through public relations campaigns, often minimising nicotine’s health risks by comparing it to caffeine or coffee. These comparisons appeared in highly publicised scientific meetings and interviews with the press. Nicotine-positive messages reappeared in the popular press and on some company websites in the 2010s.

Conclusions Tobacco companies implemented strategies to promote benefits of nicotine to scientific and general audiences while minimising its health risks. These strategies reappeared at the time novel tobacco products like electronic cigarettes were introduced. A greater awareness of the source of claims related to purported benefits of nicotine could inform discussions about emerging tobacco products.

The full citation is Ling P, Glantz S.  Tobacco company strategies to identify and promote the benefits of nicotine. Tobacco Control  2018; Epub ahead of print: 10 Aug 2018. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2018-054300.  It is available here.   

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