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Social Responsibility in the Tobacco Industry

Info: 2463 words (10 pages) Nursing Essay
Published: 21st May 2020

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Tagged: smoking


 Smoking has been in existence since the colonists were taught how to grow and use the crop by Native Americans back in the 1500s.  However, it has only been in the last 40 to 50 years that society took an interest in the harmful effects of cigarette smoking.  Before this time the tobacco industry was a booming, lucrative business. Today, here in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. the government has stepped in to regulate the tobacco industry to decrease the number of health issues associated with cigarette consumption. Should the burden of social responsibility to the consumers rest solely with the government or should the tobacco industry be as equally responsible for the welfare of their customers?


Smoking is a very popular pastime throughout the world. It is also one of the most preventable causes of death and disease. Tobacco use has been attributed to causing cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, chronic respiratory illnesses, and DEATH. These illnesses are appearing in more and more younger individuals. This is mainly because smokers are starting at ages as young as 10 years old. According to WHO (World Health Organization) there are over 1.1 billion smokers in the world today. Tobacco kills more than 6 million people globally each year. Of this number, approximately 1 million people died in China and India each.  During the 20th-century tobacco use claimed over 100 million lives. During the 21st century, it is estimated that a billion lives will be lost unless more efforts are done to decrease the number of smokers worldwide. In 2009, 5.9 trillion cigarettes were consumed that year (Martin, 2019.)


In the past decade, tobacco use has been on the decline in western, high-income countries, but manufacturers are targeting other developing countries. The main targets are young people in low to middle income countries. According to data supplied by Tobacco Atlas which is sponsored by the World Lung Foundation and the American Cancer Society, the rise in consumption in these countries is due in part to targeted marketing, increased social acceptability, continued economic development and population increases (Pampel, 2010.)

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Tobacco use is driven by economics. Smoking has a greater impact on the world’s poorest people. Data shows that 80% of the world’s smokers live in low to middle-income countries. For smokers in the U.S., 24.3% of those living below the poverty limit are smokers compared to 14.3% of the people living above the poverty limit. For countries that have had a decline in tobacco use, these countries generally have smoking laws in place. WHO has established a program called, MPOWER which has helped to reduce tobacco use in these countries. MPOWER stands for, (Monitor use, Protect people from tobacco, Offer help to quit, Warn of dangers, Enforce bans, Raise taxes.) The U.S. and UK both have implemented measures that have been effective in deterring tobacco use. Measures like enforcing bans on advertisement, raising taxes on tobacco products, warning about dangers, offering cessation help programs, and implementing smoke-free places (FCA, 2009.) Because of the decline in these countries, tobacco manufacturers have amped up targeting efforts in other places. The countries where tobacco use is on the rise do not have cessation measures in place.

In 2006, a survey was conducted, the U.S. National Health Interview Survey. Analysis of the survey examined three areas influencing tobacco use, (education, occupation, and income.) Of the three areas education (or lack thereof) had the greatest impact on the rise in use. This information is what the tobacco manufacturers use to determine their target market. One of the primary targets of the tobacco manufacturers are young people, they are the future of the industry. In Greenland, it was determined that 51% of adolescent boys had smoked at least once a week by age 15. For the adolescent girls, 53% had smoked at least once a week by age 15. This same information applies to other countries (WHO Europe, 2015.) The top 10 countries consuming cigarettes are: Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, Slovenia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Belarus and Montenegro (MarketWatch, 2014.)

In addition to the MPOWER initiative, WHO developed FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.) In the last decade, this is a global treaty adopted by 181 countries. The goal of the treaty lays out evidence-based tobacco control measures that each country agrees to implement. Articles of FCTC address higher pricing and taxes on tobacco products, requires all public areas to be smoke-free areas, all tobacco products must contain health warnings, and other items (FCA, 2009.) Countries that have not adopted the FCTC treaty (usually low to middle-income countries) are the countries tobacco industries target. In these countries, tobacco advertising is more prevalent. There are also larger numbers of stores selling tobacco products in poorer communities. Many stores will also sell single cigarettes, which appeal to adolescents who may not be able to afford full packs of cigarettes. Tobacco products in these countries are not taxed to the point that the price serves as a deterrent to the consumer.

Africa will soon be a prime target for the tobacco industry. Africa is in the early stage of tobacco use, with just a 3% margin of smokers. The tobacco industry has millions of potential customers to be had. Marketing is key and will be directed at the poorer communities and the adolescent groups (Gilmore, n.d.)


Cigarettes are the one product that causes harm to consumers when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Tobacco companies are profit-driven entities, without any concerns about the harm their product causes the consumer. When a government intervenes and places restrictions on a certain product (i.e. cigarettes) by sanctioning marketing, assessing taxes and informing the consumers of the risk associated with tobacco products, they are met with a selfish response from the tobacco companies. Instead of trying to improve on their products by investing in research to make their products safer, tobacco companies move their products to other countries that do not limit their activities of distributing their products. The same dangers that consumers face in the regulated country exist in the new location. The difference is the new location is not as well informed of the dangers, cessation help is not readily available, the country’s economy may be struggling, and the tobacco company may offer bribes to officials in exchange for a free run of their business.

The government can only do so much to protect tobacco users around the world.  The tobacco industry needs to include social responsibility in their agenda, not just PROFIT. The first thing that the tobacco industry should do is “Leave the Kids Alone.” Children are limited in their use of many products and services. Movies are rated by age appropriateness, and so are video games. The rating MA means Mature Audiences. Children cannot be licensed to drive before age 16, under adult supervision. The age to legally drink or go to casinos is 21 years. Even the right to vote is restricted to age 18. Yet in many parts of the world, children 14 and 15 years old can legally purchase cigarettes. Tobacco manufacturers should place age restrictions on their products. Put MA on their packaging.

In the advertising of their products, (i.e. billboards and commercials) the tobacco industry should include disclaimers at the end of the ad, telling about hazards and side effects associated with the use of their products. This will not interfere with the use of their products. People who want to smoke will do so regardless of the risks, but they will at least be in a position to make an informed decision.

In the U.S. the tobacco industry is required to put the warning from the Surgeon General on their packaging. It is not feasible for tobacco manufacturers to package their products in every language they do business in. However, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” There is no reason that the labels on each pack should not contain a universal symbol, warning of potential hazards.  After all, street signs use universal symbols to show road hazards.

PepsiCo under the leadership of Indra Nooyi, took steps towards social responsibility by changing the inventory they sold and adjusting the formulas they used to offer healthier products to their consumers. This was a conscious effort to better the lives of consumers. On the contrary, the tobacco industry has taken steps to cause more harm to consumers. In 1994, the tobacco industry released a list showing 599 ingredients used in manufacturing cigarettes. Researchers have determined that at least 100 of those ingredients are geared to enhance addiction to cigarettes or are used to mask the ill-effects of smoking. The tobacco industry needs to follow the lead of PepsiCo and revise their manufacturing process to remove at least 100 of the ingredients they use (Martin, 2019.)

The governments of the targeted countries need to also share in social responsibility. Many governments don’t recognize the scientific findings of the dangers of smoking. Very similar to our President’s denial of climate change dangers. Denying that a problem exists, even with scientific proof does not make the problem go away. Using the sale of tobacco products to fund the country’s economy, does not offset the burden of health costs associated with smoking.

The first step towards social responsibility is for the tobacco industry to stop making PROFIT their one and only concern.



Appendix Table I –Income, income inequality and youth smoking in low- and middle-income countries

This table shows data collected which deals with income and underage smoking in low-and-middle-income countries. The participants in this study are 169,283 students, between the ages of 13 -15, from 63 low-and-middle-income countries. The measure of absolute income was based on GDP per capita.

Appendix Table II – Current Tobacco Smoking in Europe

This table compares tobacco use across the globe, by comparison, it shows that the greatest consumption of tobacco is in Europe. The majority of the smokers in all areas are male, except for the U.S. and Europe, females represent a small portion of all tobacco users.

Appendix Table III -Socioeconomic Inequality in Smoking in Low-Income and Middle-Income Countries: Results from the World Health Survey

This table compares tobacco use with the economy of low-and-middle income countries. The countries consuming the most tobacco are European and Asian countries. African countries rank close to the bottom for tobacco use.


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Smoking is an extremely crucial public health issue which is considered to be an immediate and serious threat to many developing countries across the globe. Being one of the most significant determinants of increased rate of mortality and ill-health throughout the world, smoking is still a preventable epidemic.

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