“Do I have flexible morals?” “Let’s say you became a lawyer and you were asked to defend a murderer. Worse than that, a child murderer. Now, the law states that every person deserves a fair trial, would you defend him?” “I don’t know, I guess every person deserves a fair defense.” “Yeah, well, so do multinational corporations.”
O.Sacks, D. (producer), Reitman, J. (director). 2006. US. Thank you for smoking. Room 9 Entertainment ContentFilm
According to PRNewswire (although is not the only source that says so), “Only government and tobacco have worse industry reputations than financial services.” It is no secret that the tobacco industry has one of the worst reputations in the market, and this is mainly because of the aggressive campaigns that have been promoted around the world in defense of the health of citizens, some of them even based on inaccurate information. Every time, smoke-free zones get wider, to the point that smoking is a factually impossible activity in some places. To this extent, improving the online reputation of this industry is considered an offensive matter, mostly seen as unethical, almost as much as the fair defense that even a serial killer of children deserves in a democratic society. The question is whether it is justifiable to manage the online reputation of the tobacco industry… and the answer of this article is yes.
While they were not the first to ban it, some of the most famous anti-tobacco laws were those that operated in Nazi Germany. In fact, the term “passive smoking” was coined at that place and time. Hitler wanted to protect the Aryan race from the evils of tobacco, according to him, “the wrath of the Red Man against the white.” For this reason, even several smokers were executed during the Nazi dictatorship. The Nazis were not the only ones to be so strict when it comes to forbidding smoking: the Soviets, Mao’s China, and, of course, the United States of America. The reasons have always been the same: the direct relationship with various types of cancer and respiratory diseases, as well as the pollution and the eventual degeneration of embryos during pregnancy.
Apparently, a plenty of States have been really concerned about the health of their citizens, and, therefore, have promoted increasingly intense campaigns. Thirty years ago, it was possible to see people smoking at the office, and ten years before, even on airplanes and waiting rooms of hospitals. What’s more, it was common for an athlete to light a cigarette before competing. When did it become such an awful activity?
Recommended: When did smoking become so unpopular?
It is more than a rhetorical question. As Immanuel Kant said in his famous essay What is Enlightenment?, it is important to foster critical thinking in people (especially kids and teenagers) and going beyond statistics and the second and third-hand data that support any popular belief. In fact, there are activities, products and services that negatively affect the health of people, equally or even more than smoking, but, interestingly, they are not that watched by their critics. Even though is already encouraged to stop using fossil fuels (mainly for environmental reasons), nuclear power, genetically modified or high-sodium foods, those awareness campaigns never reach the same intensity, nor produce much displeasure in the population, as, let’s say, lighting a cigarette on a public library. Why does this happen? If the use of cell phones and the exposure to the invisible waves of Wi-Fi are also responsible for the deteriorating health of citizens, why are not as unpopular as the mere fact of smoking? Sapere Aude, says Kant.
Even if the black propaganda is true, there is nothing wrong with improving the online reputation of the tobacco industry. Most people consider that bad reputation, in general, is a matter of social justice, something that the guilty people deserve (regardless of the bad reputation is produced as a result of the own acts or the acts and/or words of others.) For this reason, people consider that it is not just unethical to defend and improve the online reputation of a so hated industry, but it is a must to keep it so, as the raison d’etre of such a reputation is the protection of the nonsmoker society and a way to avoid new smokers.
The problem is that this reasoning is not only unfair if applied in cases where the bad reputation is produced after the wrongdoings of others, instead of the own actions. This reasoning is also problematic since it teaches people not to think for themselves and stop looking for evidence that gives sense to everything they believe in.
Smokers know what they are doing, just as sedentary people, speed racers, cheese hamburgers lovers and martial arts fighters know what they are doing. Placing warning about the hazards of tobacco is a useless measure (there are actually jokes about asking packs with lung cancer warnings instead of sexual impotence warnings…). In fact, there have been cigarette brands, like Death that don’t include those warnings, because their logos are skulls and crossbones (and customers don’t mind and even feel tough guys thanks to it.)
When the certainties of each person and their life decisions are based on second or third-hand information, the concepts of truth and freedom stumble. Allowing others to reach their own conclusions and making their own decisions (even if they are influenced by tobacco advertising, just like are actually influenced by the advertising of Coca-Cola, Nike or KFC) is to promote and ensure the basic principles of democracy and free societies. On the contrary, attacking these bases, encourages States to adopt the common paternalism of dictatorships. What are the rules of the game then?