Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Controversy
September 1, 2009, 11:40 AM
Filed under: Books in General, Marketing, Politics | Tags: , , , ,

This story caught my eye the other day, and I thought it opened up an interesting debate. Here’s the original article from The Business Journal’s affiliate in Greensboro, North Carolina. It’s tough to think of an industry that is more maligned than the tobacco business, although right now health insurance companies are likely to run a close second. Over the past 20 years, legislation and strong public pressure has squeezed tobacco companies to drastically reduce the ways in which they advertise their products, as well as restrict the locations where tobacco can be used.

The new federal law that gives the Food and Drug Administration regulatory oversight of tobacco products is leading tobacco companies to challenge the law’s validity on free speech grounds. While there are other products that could be sighted as a factor in causing health issues (alcohol and fast food, for starters), tobacco is the only one that has been universally condemned as a health risk. It’s still too early to tell the extent to which government will use this law, but it opens the door for dialogue about the restrictions applied to products that, if misused, are believed to cause harm.

Should it be the government’s job to handle the communication of tobacco’s effects, if it feels the industry itself is failing in this job? The public may prefer it if the companies themselves stepped up and saved the Feds the trouble (and the money) of doing so.

The moral obligations of a business are more prevalent now than ever before in the public consciousness. We covered this idea ourselves when we summarized Lynn Sharp Pain’s Value Shift in a previous edition of Soundview Executive Book Summaries. Pain’s argument that customers expect a higher standard of corporate behavior creates an especially vexing problem when one considers the tobacco companies. As of now, tobacco is still a legal product and the ability to smoke is a choice. It’s the public’s problem to conclude whether the companies or the government is the entity to trust when it comes to providing information about the product and its effects.


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