A view from Dave Trott: No smoke without fire
A view from Dave Trott

No smoke without fire

The Czech Republic has a population of around 10 million.

In 1999, 22,000 Czech citizens died from smoking cigarettes.

About 2.5 million of them were smoking around 20 billion cigarettes a year.

That’s more than a pack a day on average.

So the Czech Ministry of Health decided something must be done to reduce cigarette consumption

It proposed banning the sale of cigarettes to juveniles, banning smoking in courts, banks, post offices and at bus stops, banning the sale of cigarettes in kiosks, restaurants, hotels and petrol stations.

As you can imagine, the cigarette companies didn’t want to lose this source of revenue.

So they lobbied the Czech government not to implement all those bans.

The world’s largest cigarette company, Philip Morris, even circulated a study proving that deaths from cigarette smoking made sound financial sense.

The paper was compiled by consulting company Arthur Little International.

The sums were roughly as follows: healthcare costs for smokers were around $296m; and for people affected by secondary smoke, $29.6m.

But against that, people dying, on average 5.23 years earlier, meant about $30m saved on healthcare, pensions and housing for the elderly.

Then add in the tax revenue from cigarette sales, and it came out at $151m "net positive effect".

Looked at that way, it made sound financial sense.

Strange, then, that the Czech newspapers didn’t see it the same way.

When the report was leaked, an editorial in Mladá Fronta Dnes called it "monstrous" and "extremely nasty" and said: "In the United States, they wouldn’t dare to say anything like that, even under a blanket."

The paper wrote: "The Czech Republic is indeed a happy hunting ground for ruthless predators like Philip Morris. When, in the mid-1990s, it looked like the number of smokers might decline, they calmly focused on children. They convinced them that he who smokes is tall, with lots of muscles, and indeed American. That’s cool isn’t it?"

Vince Willmore, of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said: "It’s the bluntest admission we’ve seen by a tobacco company of the harm that tobacco products cause. No responsible corporate entity would produce a report that basically brags about the benefits of killing its customers."

Once news of the report got out and Philip Morris could see the negative publicity, it apologised.

But for an employee at a global corporate giant, it must feel like moving the goalposts.

The purpose of a massive global organisation is to make money, so that was how Philip Morris looked at the problem.

And, to its mind, it responsibly addressed the issue of making money.

Showing clearly how allowing cigarette sales would make more money than banning them.

It had behaved in a fiscally responsible manner.

On paper, looked at as two columns of numbers, that’s pretty clear.

The issue only becomes clouded when other factors are introduced that are nothing to do with making money.

All shareholders want is bigger dividends and for the share price to go up.

Marketing people are allowed to play around with "brand purpose" as long as it doesn’t interfere with profits or reduce dividend or share price.

Which is why "brand purpose" isn’t very important to a company.

Which is probably why so much of it looks so obviously tacked on.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three