Tobacco industry and corporate responsibility: an inherent contradiction

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Tobacco industry and corporate responsibility: an inherent contradiction
Summary of a published paper produced under the World Health Organization's (WHO) Tobacco Free Initiative.
No author stated.

This paper reviews the global tobacco industry's use of Corporate Social Responsibility programs to generate positive public relations and goodwill with the public and policy makers. Tobacco Industry Youth Smoking Prevention Programs, which on their face appear intended to dissuade youth from smoking, actually increase the tendency of youth to smoke because they portray smoking as an "adults only" activity. Tobacco companies support education by offering grants, scholarships and even entire schools as a way to buy silence and complacency among institutions which would normally oppose it. The industry also engages in community development projects, for example to eliminate hunger or child labor, or even to aspire to public health goals like elimination of blindness. The industry uses this type of philanthropy to portray itself publicly as concerned about health. Philip Morris changed its name to Altria Group to help distance the company from its affiliation with tobacco in the public mind.

The paper maintains that tobacco companies are unlike other companies in that, while their products are legal, they are also lethal. For this reason, tobacco companies simply are unsuited to pursue corporate responsibility in the way that other industries and manufacturers may. The tobacco industry regarded the World Health Organization as a leading enemy, and undertook efforts to thwart WHO's tobacco control programs by staging events to distract people from WHO's efforts, attempting to reduce their tobacco control budget, pitting other United Nations agencies against the WHO, and discrediting WHO as an organization.

The paper urges the business community, consumer groups and the general public to be more vigilant and critical about tobacco companies’ "corporate social responsibility" activities.

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