Investigating industry tactics for promotion of novel tobacco products in Bulgaria
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BlueLink Foundation, Sofia, Bulgaria
Publication date: 2020-10-22
Tob. Prev. Cessation 2020;6(Supplement):A31
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Tobacco industry (TI) is aggressively promoting its new heated products as ‘smoke-free’ and ‘less harmful’ than traditional ones. While WHO and independent researchers warned against such statements, novel tobacco products are not yet covered adequately by existing smoke-free regulations.
As a party to the WHO FCTC, Bulgaria is required to introduce a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. But political decision-makers are traditionally slow and reluctant to take action and prevent legal loopholes in tobacco control legislation definitions. This allows sufficient loopholes for TI to rebrand and persistently promote its new products.
The proposed paper summarizes the outcomes from the ongoing investigation of actions and tactics, used by TI to circumvent regulatory and ethical limitations and promote its new range of heated products in Bulgaria. Data collection methods include: focus group at a closed workshop for journalists; investigative interviews; documentative desk review of sources; formal inquiries with involved media and TI companies; case studies, and participant observation.
Preliminary findings reveal that TI tactics for securing favorable media coverage involve establishing personal connections with journalists, and offering them incentives such as gifts and trips abroad. In some cases, such relations are sanctioned by editorial management. In others, the relationship with TI is institutionalized by the publishers who profit from favorable coverage of new tobacco products.
Another range of investigated TI industry methods involves sponsorship for public health opinion leaders, such as doctors, researchers or patients organizations and major events. In one case, many such opinion leaders, including smoke-free advocates, were approached with a paid recruitment offer for participation in a study of new tobacco products effects, lavishly funded by TI. The results from this study are expected to further how TI manipulates the public’s and decision-makers’ opinions in favor of novel tobacco products and against their restrictive regulations.
While BlueLink is an independent non-profit think tank, bound by academic and journalistic ethical norms, it is a member of the Smoke-Free Life Coalition of Bulgaria, and one of the researchers is a founding member of the Smoke-Free Bulgaria initiative.
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