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Alcohol and tobacco: sharing strategies to increase profits

Media release


Continued Curtin research into the links between alcohol and tobacco companies has identified the top five strategies used by both industries to prevent regulation and maximise their marketing potential.

The research was conducted by Curtin’s Laura Bond, Professor Mike Daube and Associate Professor Tanya Chikritzhs.  The findings were recently published in a paper entitled Selling addictions: Similarities in approaches between Big Tobacco and Big Booze in the Australasian Medical Journal.

Curtin Professor of Health Policy, Mike Daube, said the research into once confidential tobacco industry documents has shown that for many years major tobacco and alcohol companies shared experience and ideas, and developed common strategies to counter perceived threats.

“These companies also developed common responses to deflect concerns about tobacco and alcohol advertising, promotion, sponsorship, under-age consumption, and tax increases, and developed similar prevention and education campaigns,” he said.

The research used internal tobacco and alcohol industry documents from the tobacco document archive, focusing on the period to 2000, when the Philip Morris tobacco company owned one of the world’s largest drinks companies, the Miller Brewing Company. The documents include confidential Briefing Books prepared for the Philip Morris Chief Executive Officer ahead of the company’s Annual General Meetings.

“The documents show that these tobacco and alcohol companies not only worked closely together, but established a ‘Worldwide Regulatory Affairs’ group to promote ‘cross-company synergies’ in opposing restrictions in areas such as advertising,” Professor Daube said.

The top five strategies identified from the documents that are common to both tobacco and alcohol companies are:

  1. Arguing against tax increases – claiming that these are regressive, fall most heavily on lower-income earners, and penalise the majority who act responsibly.
  2. Strategies for marketing to youth – including product placement, especially in movies, sweet, flavour-enhanced products, and promotional campaigns.
  3. Targeting minority groups – through the strategic placement of signage, corporate donations to special interest groups, and community involvement.
  4. Arguing that health warning labels are ineffective – claiming there is a lack of evidence that warning labels are effective, that they infringe upon trademarks, and that they divert attention away from more effective programs.
  5. Running their own public awareness and education programs – to shape public opinion, influence government and seemingly demonstrate responsible corporate citizenship. They are developed to change attitudes rather than actual behaviour.

Professor Daube said learning about alcohol and tobacco industry strategies is enormously helpful in developing health policy.
“We now know which measures the industries most fear and those they think will have least impact on their sales,” he said.

“It is also important to have confirmation that these companies and industries have worked closely together, despite attempts by the drinks industry to distance itself from tobacco.

“Relationships beyond the companies reviewed are confirmed by statements in the documents such as ‘We participate in a broad coalition of organizations committed to defending commercial free speech, which includes member companies of the tobacco industry, allied industries like the liquor industry, the advertising industry, industry trade groups…’

“These industries spend billions worldwide promoting their products and have developed sophisticated lobbying mechanisms to oppose action that might work and to promote ineffective alternatives.”

“The Corporate Affairs Vice-President of Philip Morris even noted in a presentation to the company’s Board that they had ‘scores and scores of trained professionals throughout the world adept at lobbying and carrying our messages to key decision-makers’,” Professor Daube said.

Curtin Research Associate, Laura Bond said tobacco and alcohol companies both run ineffective public awareness and educational programs and seek to work alongside health and safety groups to present a responsible public image.

“Both industries claim they ‘do not want minors to smoke or drink’ yet the documents show that they share business models to deal with ‘marketing youth issues’. They also continued to develop marketing activities to attract a youth market,” she said.

This research paper follows an earlier paper, also in the Australasian Medical Journal, identifying some of the alcohol industry’s major concerns.

“While there has been access for some years to the tobacco industry’s confidential documents, the information that we have been able to obtain from alcohol industry documents paints a depressingly similar picture,” Professor Daube said.

“This is all too well confirmed by the approach taken by the drinks industry in Australia, which even now spends upwards of $500 million each year promoting its products and opposing all serious constraints.”

Contacts: Mike Daube; Professor of Health Policy; Curtin; 0409 933 933; OR Laura Bond; Research Associate; Curtin; 08 9266 7117;

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