New TCRG research exposes the conflicting narratives of tobacco companies

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A new paper by TCRG researchers shows how Philip Morris International (PMI) uses different public narratives to mislead and distract from the harms of its products.  The paper, published in PLOS Global Public Health, presents analysis of the corporate language PMI has used in its investor-facing and public-facing materials over a period of eight years. The authors show how the company emphasizes the idea of consumer choice while downplaying the highly addictive nature of tobacco.

While PMI’s harm reduction narrative is front and center in its public narratives, the research clearly shows that, in its investor-facing material, cigarettes remain key to PMI’s business and shareholders. The researchers conclude that PMI is attempting to neutralize negative public perceptions of its company and portray itself as having a key role in bringing about a healthier future for smokers.

Research published in October 2022, in Frontiers in Public Health, showed how PMI and British American Tobacco use specific narrative framings to downplay the role of tobacco companies in both population- and individual-level harms. The researchers argued that the large transnational companies “seek to normalize their role in public discussions of health policy, to cast themselves as instrumental in the redress of tobacco-related inequalities and shift responsibility for the continuation of tobacco-product use onto individual consumers.”

The researchers warn governments against allowing tobacco companies to be involved in policymaking, regardless of their public claims and arguments.

Identifying misleading corporate narratives: The application of linguistic and qualitative methods to commercial determinants of health research, I. Fitzpatrick , A. Bertscher, A.B. Gilmore, PLOS Global Public Health, 16 November 2022, doi:10.1371/journal.pgph.0000379

Tobacco industry messaging around harm: Narrative framing in PMI and BAT press releases and annual reports 2011 to 2021, I. Fitzpatrick, S. Dance, K. Silver, M. Violini, T. Hird, Frontiers in Public Health, 18 October 2022, Sec. Public Health Policy, doi:10.3389/fpubh.2022.958354

See also the page on Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which explains how Article 5.3 aims to protect policies from the commercial interests of the tobacco industry.

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