With the looming threat of plain packaging, tobacco companies in the United Kingdom have launched a stealth marketing campaign to try and mobilise smokers to “fight back”.
The makers of Marlboro are leaving messages inside cigarette packs inviting smokers to visit a campaigning website, Know-more.co.uk, which describes itself as “the community for Britain’s smokers”.
Philip Morris, which makes brands like Chesterfield, is running three different inserts in packets highlighting tough policies that aim to hit a nerve with smokers – tax, the possibility of banning smoking in cars and homes, and how plain packaging might fuel the black market trade in cigarettes.
One insert reads: “Plain packaging is the latest in a stream of proposals targeting smokers. Other excessive schemes have been suggested. Know-more by learning the issues, then say no more to the government by joining our community and speaking out.”
According to the Philip Morris campaign, the tobacco industry fears the impact of plain packaging on cigarette sales, especially since the health minister, Norman Lamb, recently urged the government to press ahead with the proposed regulation.
A spokesman for Philip Morris said: “Adult smokers and tobacco retailers in the UK face some of the strictest tobacco control regulations and pay some of the highest cigarette taxes in Europe, but typically they do not know about these policies until after they have been enacted.”
Philip Morris is the fourth biggest tobacco company in the UK, selling about seven per cent of the 4.4-billion cigarettes sold each year, which means the inserts will run in potentially as many as 1.5-million packets over the course of the campaign to raise awareness among its customers.
The tobacco industry has been stepping up lobbying efforts against proposed government regulations in recent months.
The Japan Tobacco International UK subsidiary, Gallaher, which markets brands including Benson & Hedges and Camel, has run a series of advertisements in UK newspapers attacking government policy.
The advertisements hit out against anti-tobacco groups as well as plans for proposals that include the introduction of plain packaging.
Anti-tobacco groups complained to the advertising watchdog that the content of the advertisements contained inaccuracies. The Advertising Standards Authority banned three advertisements for being misleading.