Tobacco interests or the public interest: 20 years of industry strategies to undermine airline smoking restrictions

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To understand the evolution of 20 years of tobacco industry strategies to undermine federal restrictions of smoking on aircraft in the United States.


We searched and analysed internal tobacco industry records, public documents, and other related research.


The industry viewed these restrictions as a serious threat to the social acceptability of smoking. Its initial efforts included covert letter-writing campaigns and lobbying of the airline industry, but with the emergence of proposals to ban smoking, the tobacco companies engaged in ever increasing efforts to forestall further restrictions. Tactics to dominate the public record became especially rigorous. The industry launched an aggressive public relations campaign that began with the promotion of industry sponsored petition drives and public opinion surveys. Results from polling research that produced findings contrary to the industry’s position were suppressed. In order to demonstrate smoker outrage against a ban, later efforts included the sponsorship of smokers’ rights and other front groups. Congressional allies and industry consultants sought to discredit the science underlying proposals to ban smoking and individual tobacco companies conducted their own cabin air quality research. Faced with the potential of a ban on all domestic flights, the industry sought to intimidate an air carrier and a prominent policymaker. Despite the intensification of tactics over time, including mobilisation of an army of lobbyists and Congressional allies, the tobacco industry was ultimately defeated.


Our longitudinal analysis provides insights into how and when the industry changed its plans and provides public health advocates with potential counterstrategies.

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