How tobacco protects you against the flu
- 1 Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
- 2 Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, USA
- N K Schneider, German Cancer Research Center, Im Neuenheimer Feld 280, D-69120 Heidelberg Germany;
- Received 12 December 2007
- Accepted 30 January 2008
Under the heading “How tobacco protects you against the flu”, the German chemical industry portrays a tobacco grower in an idyllic tobacco plantation. Despite the recent ban of transnational tobacco advertising within the European Union, using tobacco to promote another industry and potential societal health benefits might indirectly promote the social acceptability of tobacco to social leaders. The tobacco control community should thus monitor the use of other industries as a new method to circumvent the tobacco advertising ban and to support the social acceptability of tobacco by associating it with potential health benefits.
Since July 2007 the main weekly political magazines in Germany, Der Spiegel, Stern, Focus and Wirtschaftswoche, have published a series of advertisements promoting modern technologies, mainly genetic engineering. The campaign’s purpose is to raise the understanding and acceptability of genetically modified organisms and their use by the chemical industry in Germany. The ads were the first pillar of the “chemie-macht-zukunft” (chemistry makes future) campaign of the “Chemie-Wirtschaftsförderungs-Gesellschaft mbH (CWFG)/Initiative “Chemie im Dialog” (CID) (society for financial support of chemistry/“chemistry in the dialogue” initiative), funded by 30 chemical companies and associations, including the national chemical industry association, “Verband der Chemischen Industry eV (VCI)”.1 The other three advertisements in the series focus on the use of nanotechnology for new light sources, or the use of genetic engineering to make bacteria produce human-like tissue and to produce bioethanol for fuel, plastics and pharmaceuticals.
The second, more editorial, pillar of the campaign includes interviews with renowned scientists, including Nobel laureates, discussing the potential benefits of genetic engineering under the slogan “How do we want to live?”. These were placed in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and the magazine Der Spiegel, to improve the perception of new technologies among opinion leaders.1 Both pillars are embedded in an extensive communication campaign, including discussion fora for opinion leaders in politics, research, business, workers unions and environmental NGOs.
A TOBACCO ADVERT THROUGH THE BACK DOOR?
Despite the recent ban of transnational tobacco advertising within the European Union, this advertisement appears indirectly to promote the social acceptability of tobacco to social leaders by using tobacco to promote another industry and potential societal health benefits, such as “vaccines against the flu” and even “antibodies for cancer treatment”. As the explanatory page on the campaign website states, “an image change for the [tobacco] plant is imminent” (der Pflanze steht ein Imagewandel bevor) due to its ability to produce medical agents.2 It describes the processes used by the chemical industry, but does not explain why tobacco plants were chosen. Theoretically any plant could be used in genetic engineering of antibodies or vaccines; there seems to be no logical reason to use tobacco in particular, except to support the heralded image change. The idyllic image of tobacco farming portrayed in the advertisement does not match the processes outlined in the text. Though associating medicine with tobacco seems counterintuitive, a tobacco company has had the same idea before: a 1987 memo distributed around the Philip Morris tobacco company brainstorming new cigarette concepts included cigarettes enriched with medicines, vitamins or even a cure for cancer (an idea apparently dismissed at the time).3 While support of tobacco in this advertisement may be unintentional, connections between tobacco and chemical companies have been exploited in the past to benefit tobacco interests.4
The tobacco control community should thus monitor the use of other industries being used as a new method to circumvent the tobacco advertising ban and to support the social acceptability of tobacco by associating it with potential health benefits.
Funding: This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute (grants CA-113710 and CA-87472) and the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute. The funding agencies played no role in the conduct of the research or the preparation or revision of the manuscript.
Competing interests: None.