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The Ongoing Battle Over the World’s Most Deadly Drug

Published: June 1, 2011

In the 1920s Edward Bernays used the new art of public relations (of which he was a founding father) to tailor advertising to people’s psychological needs. It was a revolutionary and effective approach. One of his successes was to link cigarette smoking in women to their newfound empowerment. Bernays hired women to march publicly – while smoking – to associate empowerment with cigarettes.

What worked in the 20s worked again in the 60s with Virginia Slims and the “You’ve come a long way baby” slogans.

Apparently, this brand of marketing is still in effect. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco companies are marketing hard in countries where women are seeing their independence grow. It turns out that regardless of the country’s wealth, women’s smoking rates surge when they are more empowered.

Will governments take the necessary steps to fight this PR battle? Don’t count on it. Tobacco is a fantastically addicting substance and the profits made from its use are staggering.

One government that has shown an interest in tackling big tobacco is Australia’s. Legislation is being drafted to require cigarettes to be sold in plain brown and uninspiring packages. The industry has reacted with alarm knowing how important the packaging is to advertising their deadly products. As in America with its “smoker’s rights groups” in the 90s, the Aussies have seen an ad campaign from the “Alliance of Australian Retailers” asserting that this program will not work – yet it somehow sets a dangerous precedent. Puh-leese.

This correspondent has to laugh at headlines about drug dealers around the world as they never seem to label tobacco companies in that manner. Since cigarettes kill SEVERAL FOLD more people in the US than alcohol abuse, auto accidents, gun violence, and all illegal drug use combined. One has to attribute this startling truth to the hiring of good public relations firms. We hope the Australian government enacts this law so that we can see just how effective it will prove to be.