The tobacco industry, 2020: a snapshot

9 December 2020

Ruth E Malone, BMJ Journals:


Tobacco Control as a journal has long been focused not only on addressing the negative disease-promoting impacts of tobacco products but on the industry that produced them. From its inception, the journal has had a normative aim. Tobacco Control is focused primarily on research and analysis that advance understanding of how best to develop, defend and extend public policy measures to protect the public from an industry that promotes products that harm and kill people. Tobacco Control’s very first issue in 1992 featured an analysis by now-Editor Emeritus Simon Chapman on the Australian tobacco industry’s massive media campaign to derail an advertising ban. Many of the arguments in use then have a strangely familiar smell to them.1

This special e-issue features a wide range of papers about the tobacco industry. Taken together, they provide an updated, partial snapshot of multiple aspects of this industry and the ways in which it continues to aggressively promote use of both old and new harmful, addictive products, thwart and undermine public health policy measures, engage in neocolonialist exploitation and disseminate deceptive messages about itself, its products and about policies it regards as threats to its profits. Unfortunately, some within (or formerly within) the tobacco control movement have convinced themselves that the tobacco industry is now creating the solution to the tobacco disease pandemic. Yet the shiny veneer of faux sincerity cannot effectively cover over the many industry activities that increase harm to so many around the world.

However, the tobacco industry has indeed changed since 1992. In addition to considerable consolidation among the major multinational cigarette companies, the development of e-cigarettes and multiple other nicotine and tobacco products has created acquisition opportunities, as Levy and colleagues discuss in their analysis of why Altria bought JUUL.2 Public health work at all levels increasingly …

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