Can’t see the woods for the trees: exploring the range and connection of tobacco industry argumentation in the 2012 UK standardised packaging consultation

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Abstract

Introduction

Transnational tobacco company (TTC) submissions to the 2012 UK standardised packaging consultation are studied to examine TTC argumentation in the context of Better Regulation practices.

Methods

A content analysis was conducted of Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco submissions to the 2012 UK consultation. Industry arguments concerning expected costs and (contested) benefits of the policy were categorised into themes and frames. The inter-relationship between frames through linked arguments was mapped to analyse central arguments using an argumentation network.

Results

173 arguments were identified. Arguments fell into one of five frames: ineffectiveness, negative economic consequences, harm to public health, increased crime or legal ramifications. Arguments highlighted high costs to a wide range of groups, including government, general public and other businesses. Arguments also questioned the public health benefits of standardised packaging and highlighted the potential benefits to undeserving groups. An increase in illicit trade was the most central argument and linked to the greatest variety of arguments.

Conclusions

In policy-making systems characterised by mandatory impact assessments and public consultations, the wide range of cost (and contested benefits) based arguments highlights the risk of TTCs overloading policy actors and causing delays in policy adoption. Illicit trade related arguments are central to providing a rationale for these arguments, which include the claim that standardised packaging will increase health risks. The strategic importance of illicit trade arguments to industry argumentation in public consultations underlines the risks of relying on industry data relating to the scale of the illicit trade.

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