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A narrative analysis of a tobacco industry campaign to disrupt Aotearoa New Zealand’s endgame policies
  1. Ellen Ozarka,
  2. Janet Hoek
  1. Department of Public Health, University of Otago Wellington, Dunedin, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Professor Janet Hoek, Department of Public Health, University of Otago Wellington, Dunedin, P O Box 7343, New Zealand; janet.hoek{at}


Background Aotearoa New Zealand passed world-leading legislation to implement tobacco endgame policies, including greatly reducing the number of tobacco retailers. British American Tobacco New Zealand and Imperial Brands Australasia tried to undermine this policy via the ‘Save Our Stores’ (SOS) campaign, which purportedly represented small convenience store owners’ interests.

Methods We used the Policy Dystopia Model as a framework to review discursive and instrumental strategies employed in the SOS campaign. Specifically, we critically analysed the arguments, narratives and frames employed in the campaign.

Results Most SOS arguments drew on discursive strategies that emphasised unanticipated costs to the economy and society, and presented a near-apocalyptic future. Adverse outcomes included economic mayhem, thriving illicit trade, increased violent crime, fewer police, and heavier individual tax burdens. The campaign framed the government as an authoritarian legislator with misplaced priorities and used disinformation to bolster these claims. We identified a new normalisation narrative used to present very low nicotine cigarettes (VLNCs) as experimental and, by implication, risky. A metanarrative of lawlessness and decreased public safety connected the different claims.

Conclusion To address the existential challenges they face, tobacco companies used several discursive strategies to oppose the retailer reduction and VLNC policies. Our findings could inform counterarguments, and help international policymakers and advocates anticipate opposition they may encounter when introducing endgame measures, such as reducing tobacco availability.

  • Tobacco industry
  • End game
  • Public policy

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  • Contributors EO led the analysis and manuscript drafting. JH reviewed the coding and co-developed several iterations of the manuscript. JH led the revisions. Both authors have reviewed and approved the submitted and revised manuscript.

  • Funding EO was partly funded by a Health Research Council Programme grant (19/641) while this work was being undertaken.

  • Competing interests JH co-directs the ASPIRE Aotearoa Centre, a collaboration of researchers working to support effective regulation of nicotine products. EO is a member of the ASPIRE Aotearoa Centre. JH has received external funding from the Royal Society Marsden Fund and Health Research Council of New Zealand.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.