Tobacco sellers fight back

The tobacco industry has been seeking influence by funding research that supports its business and suppressing studies unfavourable to its positions.

By late 1953, the industry faced a crisis. Smoking had been linked to the rise of lung cancer. Though health concerns had been raised for decades, there was a powerful expansion and consolidation of scientific methods and findings by early 1950s that showed smoking caused fatal lung, respiratory and cardiac illnesses.

As a result, the industry worked to condemn, confuse and erode the science that threatened it. But that would not be simple. Science was held in high esteem in the immediate post-war years. The industry could not disparage the scientific enterprise and still maintain public credibility.

An illustration of how the industry has used science to its advantage is through manipulation of cigarettes to increase addictiveness. Bronchodilators were added so that smoke could enter lungs more easily. Sugars, flavours and menthol were increased to dull harshness of smoke. Ammonia was added to make nicotine travel to the brain faster.

Another is the industry’s ability to undermine information and divide the health community. Research showing that e-cigarettes were effective cessation tools and safer alternatives for smokers made waves in 2021. Later, it was revealed that the study was funded by a vaping products maker.

When the dangers of second-hand smoke started to emerge, the tobacco industry funded research to counter that. Other tactics are how study questions are framed or changing the standards for scientific research as well as having editorial board members of scientific journals with ties to the industry.

The implications can be far-reaching, as highlighted by a 2006 study into how tobacco industry influence of science and scientists in Germany has been a factor in the country’s opposition to stricter tobacco regulation.

Mr Mwangi is manager, Corporate Communications, Nacada.