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Australia: BAT corporate social irresponsibility
  1. David Simpson
  1. d.simpson{at}

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    British American Tobacco (BAT) is as noisy trumpeting its odious claims to corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Australia as it is anywhere, despite a private admission some years ago that the country holds little for it in the future. But in its 2003 Social Report, BAT made a claim so absurd that even some of its allies must now be embarrassed.

    Despite doing its utmost over many years to stop effective health warnings being put on cigarette packs, in case its customers were to get a better idea of what its wretched products are doing to their bodies, BAT sanctimoniously expressed concern about the packaging of contraband cigarettes. The precise cause of its anxiety? A fear that contraband packs were “undermining the effectiveness of health warnings”.

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    BAT’s leading brand in Australia now has a message inside the flip-top—“Anyhow…have a Winfield”—a well known promotional slogan for the brand.

    Fast forward to 2006, and we see that such sentiments are not even short-lived, but for CSR reports only. True to form, faced with having to comply with Australia’s new graphic health warnings, BAT has changed the pack design of its leading brand in Australia, Winfield, by adding a message inside the flip-top box. The message is actually a promotional slogan for Winfield. It uses the catchphrase of a popular Australian comedian, Paul Hogan, well known for down-to-earth utterances in his broad “Ocker” accent, punctuated with a word instantly recognisable as his own, “Anyhow,…” BAT used Hogan and his catchphrase to sell Winfield in the days of legal tobacco promotion. What an inspiration, then, to re-cycle the Hogan link now. Just as smokers may be given pause to consider the often shocking photographs of tobacco-induced disease in the new warnings on the outside of the flip-top, when they open up and see the inside, BAT encourages them to shrug it off with the infamous message, “Anyhow…have a Winfield”.

    If that one was dreamed up by the marketing people, it seems that BAT’s public relations staff have been busy, too. Going for gold to exploit newsworthy topics of public concern, while furthering their company’s corporate aims to resist moves to total workplace smoking bans, they recently came up with a real scorcher. In Australia, as in many other countries, there is an increasing problem of people in bars having their drinks surreptitiously “spiked” with drugs, by those who want to rob or abuse them. Thus BAT solemnly expressed its concern that if smokers drinking in a totally smoke-free bar were to be forced to go outside to light up, leaving their drinks unattended, they would risk becoming the victims of drink spiking by people surreptitiously adding psychoactive chemicals to their drinks. Imagine if tobacco companies were to surreptitiously add psychoactive chemicals to cigarettes...