08 March 2014


'How Does the Tobacco Industry Attempt to Influence Marketing Regulations? A Systematic Review' by Emily Savell, Anna B. Gilmore and Gary Fooks in (2014) 9(2) PLoS ONE notes that
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control makes a number of recommendations aimed at restricting the marketing of tobacco products. Tobacco industry political activity has been identified as an obstacle to Parties’ development and implementation of these provisions. This study systematically reviews the existing literature on tobacco industry efforts to influence marketing regulations and develops taxonomies of 1) industry strategies and tactics and 2) industry frames and arguments.
The authors indicate that
Searches were conducted between April-July 2011, and updated in March 2013. Articles were included if they made reference to tobacco industry efforts to influence marketing regulations; supported claims with verifiable evidence;were written in English; and concerned the period 1990–2013. 48 articles met the review criteria. Narrative synthesis was used to combine the evidence. ...
This systematic review suggests that the TI uses a relatively narrow range of strategies/tactics and frames/arguments when attempting to influence marketing regulation, albeit a wider range than suggested by existing taxonomies of corporate political activity. This review also suggests that TI political activity is not geographically specific, with strategies/tactics and frames/arguments being used across a wide variety of jurisdictions. Consequently the taxonomies developed within this paper are likely to be helpful in understanding TI political activity internationally. ...
This review has a number of limitations. First, although a broad search strategy and search string was used when initially identifying articles it is still possible that some relevant articles may have been missed and therefore not included within the review. To minimise this, we worked with a librarian, searched online research repositories, and contacted experts in the field to identify additional articles. Second, the coding of arguments and tactics within the articles is often subjective. To mitigate this, all three authors reviewed and re-reviewed the coding at various points during the systematic review process and, at the end,collectively reviewed 50% of the included articles, plus all of those in categories where coding concerns had been identified. Third,the identification of tactics and arguments, and the jurisdictions in which they are used, is dependent on the available literature, its quality, and any publication bias. This in turn may depend on limitations in the availability and nature of the TI documents on which much of the literature is based. These issues have a number of implications. For example, many of the articles included did not focus primarily on TI attempts to influence marketing regulations and thus only made brief references to TI tactics or arguments,with little context or background. We attempted to overcome this limitation by requiring each tactic and argument to be supported by verifiable evidence. Information regarding the success or failure of a particular policy proposal was not always recoded, making it impossible to reliably determine which tactics or arguments were most successful in defeating marketing-related regulations. Furthermore, it is highly likely that some of the tactics and arguments were used more frequently by the TI than identified within the literature. For example, financial incentives are likely to be used more frequently and broadly than the two occasions identified in Europe, we know that the TI frequently attempts to discredit their opponents (see for example ....), however this tactic was only found to have been used twice within the included literature, and similarly, arguments that marketing regulations will increase illicit tobacco are more commonly used, and in more jurisdictions, than this review would suggest. The limited appearance of some arguments, such as tobacco not having been proven to cause disease (which was only identified as having been used by the TI in Uzbekistan in 1994), may reflect the fact that we only examined tactics and arguments from 1990 onwards. In addition, we note that despite a growing literature showing how the TI influences trade agreements and then uses them to argue against the feasibility of regulations, the use of trade agreements to pre-empt marketing policy is not identified as a tactic (although we do identify the use of trade agreements as an argument under the‘legal’ frame). This is perhaps due to the focus of our search being on the TI’s influence of marketing regulations which may,therefore, have missed articles examining industry influence on trade agreements that were in turn used to influence marketing regulations. Due to our concerns regarding bias in the literature,the counting element of this review should be used as a guideline only to provide some insight into the most frequently used tactics and arguments.
The main strength of this review is its systematic approach and its attempt to rigorously categorise industry strategies/tactics and frames/arguments; to our knowledge it is the first attempt to do so. A key strength is the geographic diversity of the literature reviewed. Although over half of the included articles (26 articles, 56%) focussed on North America, Europe or Australasia (perhaps in large part due to grants provided by the US National Cancer Institute for research on TI documents in the early 2000s), a significant proportion did not, and the geographic base was far more diverse than some previous reviews of industry tactics. While some tactics and arguments were seen only in one or a few jurisdictions, this sometimes appears to reflect limitations in the underlying literature (see above), or specific jurisdictional issues for example the use of pre-emption in the USA. While care needs to be taken in assuming that tactics and arguments used in one jurisdiction will be used elsewhere, this review suggests that the findings will be broadly applicable across different geographies. It is, however, also important to recognise that some arguments are likely to be more effective in certain circumstances, for example legal arguments may be more successful where government legal expertise is undeveloped and the costs of litigation proportional to government revenue are high.
They report that
56% of articles focused on activity in North America, Europe or Australasia, the rest focusing on Asia (17%), South America, Africa or transnational activity. Six main political strategies and four main frames were identified. The tobacco industry frequently claims that the proposed policy will have negative unintended consequences, that there are legal barriers to regulation, and that the regulation is unnecessary because, for example, industry does not market to youth or adheres to a voluntary code. The industry primarily conveys these arguments through direct and indirect lobbying, the promotion of voluntary codes and alternative policies, and the formation of alliances with other industrial sectors. The majority of tactics and arguments were used in multiple jurisdictions.
They conclude
Tobacco industry political activity is far more diverse than suggested by existing taxonomies of corporate political activity. Tactics and arguments are repeated across jurisdictions, suggesting that the taxonomies of industry tactics and arguments developed in this paper are generalisable to multiple jurisdictions and can be used to predict industry activity. ...
Hillman and Hitt’s framework, on which the categorisation of tactics in this review was initially based, considerably under-represents the range of tactics that the TI uses when attempting to influence policy. This may reflect both the unprecedented number of regulatory risks facing this particular industry and that their categorisation was developed prior to the release of internal TI documents. Furthermore Hillman and Hitt’s [21] taxonomy was based on exchange theory which assumes that corporate political activity represents one side of an exchange relationship in which corporations offer policymakers support and information in return for influencing policy. While the relevance of this approach is now arguably more limited with the advent of the FCTC’s Article 5.3 (which aims to protect public health policies from the ‘‘vested interests of the tobacco industry’’), this will not necessarily reduce the TI’s ability to influence policy but simply require them to do so less directly. The frequency with which the TI relies on third parties highlights the weakness of exchange theory-based models of corporate political activity. We also identified tactics/strategies that sit outside of exchange theory (such as constituency fragmentation, the threat of litigation, and ineffective forms of self-regulation) which challenges the assumption that corporate political activity is designed to produce outcomes that are mutually beneficial to corporations and policymakers, and we show that the information and arguments the TI uses are highly misleading; findings which suggest the original model may be both limited and na─▒ve.
Although it appears that the TI uses a number of discrete arguments within a narrow range of frames, many of them fall within a larger ‘cost-benefit’ meta-frame which promotes the economic and social costs of proposed public health policies and underplays their benefits. This approach is highly relevant to current policymaking which embeds stakeholder consultation and impact assessments within the process of policy formation. It has previously been shown that the TI successfully lobbied for the introduction of impact assessments in Europe (impact assessments using a cost-benefit approach in which the impacts of policies are monetised) because it felt that this system would work to its advantage and make it harder for public health policies to be implemented. This is also supported by the related literature which shows how impact assessment, notably cost benefit analysis, can serve to assist corporate interests. Arguments such as‘the cost of compliance will be high’, ‘the regulation is more extensive than necessary’ and those under the ‘negative unintended consequences’ frame are used to increase scepticism about the likely benefits of regulation, and highlight the potential future cost for industry, retailers, and the public through the wasting of public funds on unnecessary policy formation, discussion and implementation. This is also observed through the omission of a ‘health frame; this review found no evidence of the TI making reference to the dangers of smoking, although it did find an example of the TI refuting the relationship between smoking and disease as late as 1994 in Uzbekistan.
Finally we note that there is some overlap in the tactics and arguments used by the TI. For example, there is both a legal strategy and a legal frame, the policy substitution strategy overlaps with the regulatory redundancy frame (especially, for example, the tactic ‘develop/promote voluntary code/self-regulation’ an argument ‘industry adheres to own self-regulation’), and many of the arguments within the negative unintended consequences frame are linked to efforts in constituency building. This highlights how the tactics and arguments used by the TI are mutually reinforcing.