Education And Debate

A day in the life of an advertising man: review of internal documents from the UK tobacco industry's principal advertising agencies

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7257.366 (Published 05 August 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:366
  1. Gerard Hastings (g.hastings@strath.ac.uk), director,
  2. Lynn MacFadyen, research officer
  1. Centre for Tobacco Control Research, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow G4 0RQ
  1. Correspondence to: G Hastings
  • Accepted 12 June 2000

In July 1999 the Health Select Committee began an investigation into the British tobacco industry to determine what action it had taken and was taking in response to the known harmful effects of smoking and the addictive nature of tobacco. One of the committee's key achievements was to force the disclosure of a large quantity of internal company documents, including—for the first time—material from the UK tobacco industry's leading advertising agencies.

These documents cover all matters to do with tobacco promotion. They shed a unique light on the social research that has been done over the past 20 years to establish if and how tobacco promotion affects smoking behaviour. This research has been extensive but by necessity limited to studying observable outputs. The documents complete the picture by disclosing the inputs. In the process the documents corroborate the key findings of research and also yield much about the motivations and mindset of the UK tobacco industry.

Summary points

Tobacco advertising is intended to increase consumption as well as brand share and has a powerful effect on young people

Sponsorship and advertising work in exactly the same way and are only a small part of tobacco marketing

Tobacco advertisers are driven by a commercial imperative to increase sales, and they show no concern for the ethical or public health consequences of their actions

Voluntary agreements simply do not work and must be replaced by statutory measures

Methods

The select committee identified five UK advertising agencies with clients in the tobacco industry, and using its statutory powers it requested internal documents covering tobacco related business in the previous five years. On our advice it requested particular types of document (box 1). Between them the agencies submitted 16 boxes containing several thousand pages of material. We have no way of knowing what proportion of the requested …

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