How tobacco companies are perceived within the United Kingdom: An online panel

Crawford Moodie, Lesley Sinclair, Anne Marie MacKintosh, Emily Power, Linda Bauld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Introduction: Little is known about how consumers perceive tobacco companies in the United Kingdom.  Methods: An online cross-sectional survey with those aged 16 years and over (N= 2253) explored perceptions of, and attitudes towards, tobacco companies. This included awareness of tobacco companies, views on tobacco companies’ practices (targeting the most vulnerable, encouraging smoking to replace those who quit or die, making cigarettes more addictive) and values (honesty, ethics, interest in harm reduction), perceptions of regulation of tobacco companies (whether tobacco companies have the same marketing rights as other companies, should be allowed to promote cigarettes, be required to sell cigarettes in plain packs, and pay for associated health costs), and locus of responsibility for health problems caused by tobacco use.  Results: Prompted awareness of tobacco companies was high (68%). Almost a third of the sample had a negative perception of tobacco companies’ practices, for example, they thought they made cigarettes more addictive. In terms of tobacco companies’ values, less than a fifth considered tobacco companies honest, ethical, and interested in reducing the harm caused by cigarettes. Indeed, tobacco company executives were rated lower than the seven other professions asked about, except car salesman, in terms of ethics and honesty. More than half the sample supported greater regulation, for example, requiring tobacco companies to pay for health costs due to tobacco use. Most attributed responsibility for smoking-related health problems to smokers (88%) and tobacco companies (55%).  Conclusions: The findings suggest that consumers are not fully informed about tobacco company practices.  Implications: Few studies outside of North America have explored perceptions of tobacco companies’ practices, values and regulation and responsibility for smoking-related illness. Adults surveyed within the United Kingdom considered tobacco companies dishonest, unethical and untrustworthy, but only a third of the sample thought that they encourage new smokers or have made cigarettes more addictive, and just over a half attributed most of the responsibility for smoking-related health problems to tobacco companies. As consumers do not appear fully informed about the role of tobacco companies in initiating and perpetuating the tobacco epidemic, tobacco industry denormalization campaigns may be of potential value.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1766-1772
Number of pages7
JournalNicotine and Tobacco Research
Issue number8
Early online date13 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2016


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