A Case Analysis Of A Public Tobacco Campaign

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A Case Analysis Of A Public Tobacco Campaign

R.J. Reynolds (RJR) is one of many cigarette companies that is working toward the continued deregulation of tobacco by the government.  One affective strategy employed by RJR was to place public informational advertisements in major national newspaper and magazines.  It is important to study the public texts produced by RJR as they reveal a complex and evolving public campaign to influence public health policy.  The following is an analysis of the constraints facing the tobacco industry, ways it confronts this impediments, theoretical perspectives apply to evaluate their effectiveness and draw some lessons for the practice of organizational communication.

Richard Joshua Reynolds of Winston, North Carolina, founded RJR in 1875.  Some general facts and goals at RJR are described in their mission statement.  Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJRT) is the second largest cigarette manufacturer in the Untied States, with four of the nation’s 10 best selling brands … W e will continually strive to meet the preference of adult …[w]e conduct our business in a responsible and ethical manner, recognizing the risks associated with the use of cigarettes, and committed to being a constructive participant in various public policy issues involving smoking. (RJRT.com)Thus, RJR focuses its attention on product development and market expansion, while at the same time acknowledging their complicity in the public health issues surrounding smoking.  The following section analyzes the informational advertisements placed by RJR between 1993 and 1998 to show how the affective elements in the advertisements changed over time to combat obstacles they faced and acknowledge the organizational culture.

In the period of 1993 to 1995, RJR places many information advertisements in newspapers such as USA Today and The New York Times in an effort to oppose government regulation of tobacco.  This began when William Jefferson Clinton was elected President and directed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate regulating tobacco.  RJR immediate began paying for advertisements that claimed government regulation of tobacco would lead to higher crime, cost taxpayers billions of dollars to enforce regulations, and would impinge upon individuals’ basic civil rights.  These appeals are entirely consistent with the difficult rhetorical position occupied by RJR in the face of rising public and political pressure for regulation.  The first barrier or constraint RJR faced was the issue of their public credibility – or lack thereof.  Cigarettes are known to cause cancer and efforts to forestall regulation are only going to increase the morality and morbidity of consumers.  RJR, in this sense, is NOT a good corporate citizen and lacked the good name to present themselves credibility in public.  In addition to a credibility crisis, RJR faced mounting public criticism and pressure for reform.  The continued attacks on their name and reputation further meant that the company needed to mount a vigorous defense.  Thus, facing a potential sea-change in their business environment, RJR had to really work hard.  Finally, RJR faced the barrier of apathy or ignorance.  To much of the public, regulation of RJR and the tobacco industry was not only a good idea but they likely could not see any immediate impact on their lives – particularly if they were non-smokers.  In short, RJR faced a number of hurdles to the effective receipt of their message.  The following section will outline how RJR confronted these barriers.

One particular affective appeal used by RJR to arose public attention to the issue of regulation was based on the experience of Canada when they increased tobacco taxes and experienced a growth in crime.  The advertisement noted that Canada rolled back its taxes on cigarettes it passed two years prior to the massive upsurge in smuggling and organized crime.  The illegal activities created a climate of fear and violence throughout the country (RJR, 143).  This example was used to allude to what might happen in the United States if the Federal Government were to regulate tobacco.  In another advertisement, RJR says that the government is already costing taxpayers more than 500 billion dollars a year by employing 125,000 workers to oversee 5,000 different regulations (Reynolds, 155).  RJR suggests that a war on smoking will only create additional federal bureaucracy to regular tobacco and that the government should concentrate on more urgent social issues (Reynolds, 159).  A third appeal, and probably the most effective, was to point out that basic individual rights to choose were being violated by the government.  Results from a poll taken in 1993 confirmed that 9 out of 10 American believe that adults should have the right to choose for themselves whether or not to smoke (Reynolds, 155).  In addition to this poll, RJR provided testimonials from smokers and non-smokers.  One non-smoker stated, “The role the government should be to inform.  They should just give me the information and allow me the freedom to make my own decisions” (Reynolds, 145).  Testimonials from nonsmokers on the violation of their constitutional rights to choose or at least to have a say in the issue are more effective to the general public than that of smokers.  The seemingly disinterested, unbiased statements translate into the appearance of a broad coalition of interests favor maintaining the status quo keeping tobacco regulation very loose.

The above references advertisements were the original focus of RJR’s persuasive tactics against government regulation starting in 1993.  However, as their campaign continued, RJR focused its message on the education of children, the dangers of smoking and need to have discussions with parents and teachers to avoid the pitfalls of peer pressure.  One advertisement states that the government should not be responsible for teaching children lifestyle decisions and values, but that education children about the risks of tobacco and avoiding peer pressure should be left to parents or teachers (Reynolds, 157).  RJR argues that increasing federal bureaucracy will not only fail to decrease underage smoking but that states need to enforce the laws on the books meant to keep children from accessing cigarettes.  It is this later approach of following the law already established that RJR believes would be the most effective at curbing smoking (Reynolds, 156).

The complex and multifaceted arguments marshaled by RJR in their public advertisements can be better understood through the framework of Systems Theory.  According to Miller (2003), a systems approach to organizational communication looks at how we study organizations (p. 71).  The organic or evolutionary nature of the arguments made by RJR in their multi-year advertising campaign exemplify the dynamism within organizational life discovered by organizational theorists.  Two key ideas of systems theory, permeability and interdependence are shot through RJR’s adverting.  Permeability argues that successful systems are not closed but rather are open to new inputs from outside.  Interde.............


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