Tobacco Companies actively market a highly addictive and lethal product, and have done so for many years here in the United States and abroad. Their lack of ethics and social responsibility in the business world are apparent in documentation brought to light during lawsuits against them in recent
years. The desire for profit and expansion, rather than a concern for societal health, has dictated big tobacco company operations. These wealthy world powers continue to exercise unethical business practices in their approach to conducting business at a great communal and economic cost to societies worldwide.
Ethics may be defined as a collection of moral principles and values regarding right and wrong that control individual and group behavior. Standards for ethical behavior and decisions arise from those moral principles and values. An individual or group may benefit or harm others in society. Human behavior may be categorized in one of three ways: codified law, free choice, or ethics. Laws enforced by the government provide values and standards society must obey. Free choice exists at the other end of the spectrum and provides complete freedom to pursue self-interests. No laws restrict free choice behaviors. Ethics occupies the zone between codified law and free choice. Society has shared beliefs and values used to dictate acceptable behavior. Ethical decisions are legally and morally approved by society (Daft, 25).
Tobacco companies produce a product for society desire and they make a profit doing so. They also satisfy legal responsibilities and obey laws although their political influence has frequently slanted the government process in their favor financially. Problems arise for tobacco companies when only law or free choice controls decision-making. Although producing and selling tobacco is legal, the business is not automatically ethical and does not benefit society as a whole. The positive effects of jobs within the tobacco industry are outweighed by the negative social, health, and economic costs to society.
Currently, some tobacco companies are exercising discretionary responsibility by voluntary social contributions such as providing food, water, and other supplies to flood victims after recent hurricanes. This is the highest level of social responsibility and goes beyond societys expectations of the company (Daft, 28).The true motivation is more likely to improve their reputation rather than pure generosity. Legal action against tobacco companies left them with tarnished reputations. The tobacco companies have placed economic gain as the number one goal over social responsibility and have ignored the role of ethics in their business practices. Business has allowed corruption in the workplace. Competition is the essence of business. Winning is more important than how the game is played and the reward for tobacco companies is financial. Managers understand right and wrong in their personal life, but do not feel it applies to business practice. Generally people make an ethical decision when going to work for a company, then leave the ethical
decisions to the company. The society of business rewards performance by obeying rules and performing tasks, not on how performance affects the outside world. As the jobs move further down the line into smaller pieces of the overall puzzle, it is easier to view the relationship between action and effect as less morally and operationally objectionable. In this way, large corporations serve to insulate individuals from the victims of the companys actions. The empathetic feeling that stimulates the conscience is absent. For workers today, life at work is an important social arena outside of the home (Krohe, 16). Ties to the community, extended family, and the political system are weaker compared to past generations. Workers may fear losing their job, and therefore, the desire for acceptance in the workplace encourages them to adopt corporate culture.
Tobacco companies display a lack of ethical concern in producing, marketing, and selling tobacco products. The addictive and harmful effects of cigarettes were already well known by tobacco companies from the 1950s (Stauber, 1). The need to keep a supply of consumers addicted to nicotine in order to profit led to the development of the public relations industry. Exposing the tobacco companies knowledge and business practices began with a paralegal named Merrell Williams, Jr. He sent copies of a major tobacco companys internal communications from a law firm to Stan Glantz at the University of California at San Francisco who then published The Cigarette Papers. This analysis of what the tobacco companies knew and how they concealed it from the public was also published in the July 1995 issue of The
Journal of the American Medical Association (Gibbs, 2). This proved the tobacco companies lied about their findings.
When possible harmful effects from smoking led to a decline in cigarette sales, tobacco companies hired legendary public relations figures John Hill, Ivy Lee, and Edward Bernays to restore the security of their product in the market. This psychological marketing was first used on women and the children and included third party advocacy, subliminal message reinforcement, junk science, advocacy advertising, phony front groups, and buying favorable advertising and news reports (Stauber, 2). Sales to women increased with the implied message that cigarettes keep you slim from Virginia Slims and slogans such as Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet. To break the taboo that respectable women do not smoke, they produced advertising equating cigarettes with freedom as a symbol of womens liberation. Deluging society with decades of advertising on TV, in magazines, movies, radio, and billboards identified cigarettes with sex, youth, freedom, and vitality.
By opening new markets in foreign countries, the tobacco companies continued to profit despite the bad press. Well-paid, powerful lobbyists prevented attempts to impose serious regulation and taxation by the government. The front group, National Smokers Alliance, created by Burson-Marstellar Public Relations and Philip Morris, set out to organize tobacco victims in order to protect tobacco profits. This state of the art campaign ran full-page newspaper ads,
engaged in direct telemarketing, paid canvassers, and set up a toll free number and newsletters to bring smokers into the group. Paid young activists visited bowling alleys and bars to sign up smokers and encourage them to stand up for smokers rights. NSA members were encouraged to apply political pressure on politicians with regard to smoking in the workplace. Implying anti-smokers were anti-American pushed a discrimination against smokers freedom and rights, and was effective in uniting the group. Another front group created by PR and Philip Morris in California, nearly succeeded in overturning many restrictions already on the law books. The Californians for Statewide Smoking Restrictions implied they were for smoking restrictions, but actually favored smokers (Stauber, 3). Anti-smoking groups educated the public about the groups funding source and
the tobacco companys smokescreen failed.
Politically, tobacco companies wield immense influence through political contributions and well-connected lobbyists (Common Cause, 1). By delaying or blocking bills, the tobacco industry avoided control by the government for years. Politicians were rewarded financially by tobacco and stood to lose easy campaign money if they challenged tobacco. Tobacco companies also exerted influence against anti-tobacco politicians by contributing to their competitors campaigns. Generous awards, special interest money, and jobs after public service sweetened the deal and bought silence and inactivity on legislative bills for many years. Now public awareness and the media make tobacco supporters less popular. Congress has a moral and public policy duty to prevent smoking in
children (Common Cause, 1-2). The goal for tobacco companies is now to avoid losing legal and political battles. The battle to alter public opinion on smoking and health is already lost (Stauber, 3). Eventually ignoring ethics leads to more laws and regulations as society attempts to alter unethical business practice (Daft, 2). One ploy used by the tobacco companies to ease the minds of nervous consumers was the creation of the low tar cigarette. The actual tar exposure and the subsequent health risk are about the same as a conventional cigarette. and nicotine amounts listed on the cigarette label came from machines designed to smoke the cigarette, not humans. The appeal to the public came from the implied lower tar and nicotine yield and thus a lower health risk. The tobacco companies documents indicate the effects of tobacco were known for many years. The cigarettes were designed to give low readings when machines smoked them and higher yield when people smoked them (Jarvis, 2).The tar
In 1978 the US Tobacco Institute indicated passive smoking might be harmful (Lown, 1). This changed smoking into a public health dilemma for the entire community. After successful workmans compensation cases, came the introduction of restrictions for smoking on the job. Consumption of cigarettes and profits dropped in response. Tobacco companies responded to another attack by advertising, attempting to discredit medical research, promoting smokers rights organizations, and by evaluating for sick building syndrome. Sick building syndrome is a general term used to refer to the development of a variety of signs and symptoms believe to be caused by exposure to indoor air (Lown, 1). It
diverted unwelcome attention away from smoking in the workplace, and focused on pollutants other than smoke as the cause of employee illness.
Evidence shows most smokers begin smoking at about fourteen years of age and almost all begin before reaching adulthood. Studies indicate the earlier the habit begins, the harder it is to quit. Most smokers are addicted to nicotine before they are old enough to legally purchase cigarettes. Compared to smokers that begin smoking in adulthood, adolescents are more likely to smoke heavily all their life, die prematurely, and succumb to smoking related illness. As with other health related concerns, teens are notoriously unconcerned with future health risks. Adolescents underestimate the harmful effects of cigarettes and do not realize addiction to nicotine is possible even with experimentation. Nicotine delivered through tobacco is quite addictive. Teens believe they can avoid the long-term harmful effects by smoking for only a few years. Most young people do not plan on smoking for the rest of their lives at the outset. Because of their incomplete growth and development, teens are incapable of understanding what smoking will do to them physically and emotionally. Cigarettes are sold everywhere. Access for minors is easy with vending machines. Convenience stores often sell cigarettes next to the candy racks. Youth receive the message society is not concerned with preventing tobacco use in young people (SAILOR, 1).
Another way tobacco companies manipulate youth is by sponsoring sporting and music events. A large number of youth attend these events and
tobacco companies get high visibility advertising for their investment. It cements the connection between athletic prowess, artistic expression, glamour, entertainment, individuality, and cigarettes (SAILOR, 2). Tobacco companies indirectly imply cigarettes are a part of that world and smoking is a way of belonging.
Despite the attacks on tobacco in this country their profits remain high as they relocate their battle onto foreign soil. Their long-range goal is to maintain current profits in industrialized nations and concentrate their resources on third world countries, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union. In the past ten years sales in the US fell seventeen percent, but exports rose two hundred fifty-nine percent. For RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris sixty percent of their profits are generated from foreign countries (Lown, 3). Developing countries are vulnerable to tobacco companies in several ways. Many foreign countries have no advertising controls in place to limit tobacco advertising. They also do not have appropriate health warning requirements and few, if any, pressure groups fighting for tobacco controls. There are usually no age restrictions or limitations on public smoking. Foreign populations are poorly educated as to tobaccos harmful effects and there is no health information directed to the tobacco companies target teens. Because cigarettes sold overseas have a higher tar and nicotine content, they are very addictive and more lethal (Lown, 3).
should not rule business. The goal is to eliminate the tobacco industry not merely drive them into bankruptcy (Gibbs, 2).
Not long ago it was unheard of to fight a tobacco company in court and win. Eliminating smoking may be possible sooner than we realize. Measures to end the reign of tobacco should begin in the United States. The American Medical Association has recommended the elimination of all tobacco advertising, regulation of cigarettes as drug delivery devices, prohibition of tobacco exports, and to continue aggressive legal action to recover medical costs from tobacco companies. Society must convey the importance of preventing youth smoking by demanding and enforcing no tobacco use on school and restricted public property and strictly penalizing distribution of cigarettes to minors. Effective counseling and treatment for addicted smokers is essential to help end tobaccos grip on the public. The public attitude toward smoking continues to shift in favor of healthier life habits. Finally public pressure is forcing the unethical tobacco companies to pay up.
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