As originally used, the term refers to a political campaign by the tobacco industry to undermine attempts by government to regulate the sale or consumption of tobacco products in the United States. The strategy included hiring public relations firms and people in the health field to produce reports that questioned the science behind the risks of smoking, claiming the science was unsettled, uncertain and that more time was needed to determine what the real risks were. These were studies paid for by the interests that would be most adversely affected, economically, if people believed the science behind the health risks from smoking. The tobacco industry also paid people to talk to the media and publish articles attacking the regulation of tobacco as an assault on individual freedom (to smoke) and on capitalism and free markets.

The prime intent of the strategy was to delay regulatory action. The tobacco interests knew that tobacco was dangerous both for people who smoked and for those around them (second-hand smoke), and that this reality would eventually prevail, but any delay in governmental controls over use of tobacco products would provide substantial profits to the industry in the interim. A decade’s delay provided a decade of profits, a not inconsiderable sum of money, and much less than the money spent to undermine regulatory reforms.

The strategy has been adopted by the fossil fuel industry, led by Exxon Mobil and others, as a model for the industry’s aggressive opposition to any governmental regulation of the burning of fossil fuels that are significant contributors to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), and global climate change. In 2011, Exxon Mobil earned a profit of $41.1 billion. Delaying regulation of fossil fuels for a decade can help protect that level of profit.

In an interesting twist, government interests in the UK, including in Northern Ireland, and the US have adopted the term “tobacco control strategy,” to refer to government regulatory programs that are aimed at preventing young people from starting to smoke, reducing the number of smokers of all ages, and protecting people from passive smoking. In a way, the usage of the term has been reversed.


Some further ideas to explore on Tobacco Strategy:

Identify each of the arguments used to oppose tobacco regulation and compare them to arguments used to oppose climate change legislation.

Develop answers to each of the arguments used to oppose climate change legislation.

Be sure to provide reliable published sources for your answers.

Check one published article that attacks the established science on climate change and evaluate the sources on which that article relies.



Bob Guerico, “The Tobacco Strategy,” The Environment Site,

Larry Breed, “Strategies of the Tobacco Industry,”

“Edwin Poots to launch 10-year tobacco strategy,” BBC NEWS Northern Ireland, 28 February 2012.

See, also, Interview with John Gibbons in the Podcast section of current issue of irish environment

William D. Nordhaus, “Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong,”

The New York Review of Books, March 22, 2012.

Rebecca Leber, “Exxon Mobil’s Tax Rate Drops To 13 Percent, After Making 35 Percent More Profits On Rising Gas Prices in 2011,”


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