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Tobacco ad in C&EN

April 4, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 14

I was disgusted to find the 14-page “special promotional supplement” from British American Tobacco (BAT) in the March 14 issue of C&EN. Regardless of the advertising revenue this may have generated, that is insufficient justification for the American Chemical Society to help big tobacco look respectable. The special report portrayed BAT as concerned about reducing toxicity of tobacco products and expending significant money on tobacco safety research. R&D Director David O’Reilly proffered that BAT is developing several “reduced risk” products “because consumer needs vary.”

The facts are these: (1) There is no consumer “need” for BAT’s tobacco products; (2) persuading consumers that new products are “safe(r)” is in BAT’s interest to grow its business; (3) BAT’s goal is not a reduction, but an increase, in the use of tobacco, whether smoking or smokeless; (4) the new products have risks (Environ. Health Perspect. 2014, DOI: 10.1289/ehp.122-a244); (5) there is concern and evidence that e-cigarettes are a gateway for new smokers and nicotine addiction; (6) BAT is the second-largest tobacco company in the world; (7) BAT vigorously fought an $8 billion judgment in Canada in 2015 that found it inadequately warned smokers of health hazards, yet (8) BAT and other tobacco companies continue to vigorously fight regulation of advertising and packaging around the world; (9) BAT continues to buy tobacco companies in developing countries to expand its sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products and to lobby to increase market access (such as during China’s World Trade Organization negotiations so that it could target that population of 1.2 billion to make up for declining Western markets); and (10) BAT’s head of product stewardship, Audrey Richter, wrote that BAT aims to “contribute to the development of global voluntary and regulatory product standards for e-cigarettes.” Translation: BAT will fight for the least restrictive universal regulation so that it is free to broadly market its products globally.

To its everlasting shame, the American Medical Association published tobacco advertisements in the Journal of the American Medical Association for 20 years despite known risks, lending respectability to a killer. It would be a shame if ACS through C&EN does the same.

Robert Johnston
Lake Jackson, Texas

Kevin Davies, C&EN’s publisher, responds: The promotional supplement sponsored by British American Tobacco was excerpted from the company’s “Science & Technology 2015” report. A condition of accepting the advertising was that the promotional supplement focus on BAT’s R&D and quality-control efforts, as well as spotlight career opportunities for chemists within the organization. C&EN does not endorse e-cigarettes or tobacco products of any kind.



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