Social Acceptability Working Party

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.


The Social Acceptability Working Party (SAWP) was a subcommittee of the global tobacco industry's International Committee on Smoking Issues (ICOSI), created to find measures to combat the social costs and passive smoking issues that emerged in developed countries starting in the late 1970s. The passive smoking issue (public concern over the health effects of breathing secondhand smoke) was also contributing to a decline in the social acceptability of smoking. Members of SAWP were charged with monitoring health groups, and developing countermeasures to fight their efforts to reduce tobacco use.

SAWP's purpose was to monitor anti-smoking activities around the globe "as they move away from the primary issue [the health of smokers], and advise ICOSI in regard to countermeasures," and developing appropriate tactics to meet their challenges" [1]

Minutes of a 1979 ICOSI/SAWP meeting link the social acceptability issue to declining cigarette sales volume. Meeting attendees also discussed implementing "global countermeasures" to fight public health efforts to reduce tobacco use:

Vogel [Christian Vogel of Reentsma, the German tobacco company] noted that it was important to stress to the national [tobacco manufacturing] associations the impact the social acceptability issue is having on market volume volume...2. Development of Global Countermeasures: Hind reported...the Executive Committee has charged SAWP with the development of global countermeasures (which might then be adopted to the needs of individual countries) to counteract the public opinion trends.

Companies represented on ICOSI

Functions

SAWP members believed that negative attitudes about smoking, if left unchecked ...

... will eventually solidify into strong beliefs -- creating even further pressures for the suppression or banning of smoking in public places.

They further concluded that there was still time to change this, saying "Right now these negative attitudes may be successfully attacked in most countries." The working party expressed its objective by saying,

WE MUST START TRYING TO MOLD PUBLIC OPINION FAVORABLY ON THE SOCIAL ACCEPTABILITY OF SMOKING [All-caps emphasis taken from original document][3]

The companies feared that society's then-new focus on the economic burdens caused by tobacco, or "social costs" (higher medical costs, absenteeism, cleaning costs, etc.) would create "economic incentives [for companies] to join anti-smoking efforts." They feared this would lead to widespread, cascading efforts by businesses to decrease their operating costs by helping employees quit smoking. They feared this in turn would accelerate the decline in social acceptability of smoking and further decrease cigarette consumption:

If enough managers become convinced that anti-smoking efforts will help their company's profitability, then SAWP [the Social Acceptability Working Party of ICOSI] can visualize an avalanche of corporate-sponsored anti-smoking programs. If so, such programs could easily dwarf the present efforts carried out by governments and public interest groups...Considering just these...major implications, SAWP believes that the industry must begin to quickly and seriously address 'social costs' issues.

Another goal of ICOSI/SAWP was to "reduce to absurdity" public health conclusions about the social costs of smoking:

Put [social cost arguments against smoking] in perspective and reduce them to absurdity - Demonstrate that overeating, coffee, sugar, lack of exercise, fats, alcohol, etc. are also alleged to generate 'social costs.' If tobacco use is subjected to attack, these other behaviors should also be indicted, taxed and otherwise discouraged.ICOSI Approaches to "Social Cost" Issues Tobacco Institute report. 1978. [1]

The initial chairman of SAWP was C. Dennis Durden, R.J. Reynolds Vice President of Public Affairs, who also served on the Tobacco Institute Communications Committee. A former Philip Morris employee who left the company to start a consulting firm, George R Berman of Philip Morris (later Devon Management Resources), helped organize and direct SAWP activities. In 1979, Berman teamed with with the industry law firm Jacob, Medinger and worked with SAWP to develop unified, global strategies to address these issues, which were very damaging to tobacco industry interests.

In 1979, ICOSI members adopted a plan devised by SAWP to secretly recruit and fund a stable of prominent, tobacco industry-friendly academic philosophers, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and other non-biomedical scientists to develop arguments that promoted the benefits of smoking, to refute arguments about the social costs of smoking, and emphasize the negative effects the companies believed smoking bans had upon society. [4]

In the same year George Berman also recruited Professors Robert D Tollison (George Mason Uni) and Richard Wagner (then Florida Uni) to begin working for the tobacco industry writing propaganda. They were later handed over to the control of James Savarese at Ogilvy & Mather PR, and from this emerged the infamous Cash for Comments Economists Network. with a professor of economics recruited in each state to work secretly for the tobacco industry.

References

  1. Minutes of the Thirteenth Meeting of ICOSI/SAWP Brussels 791023 - 791024Report/meeting minutes. October 24, 1979. Bates No. 2023024461/4470
  2. Minutes of ICOSI/SAWP Eight Meeting. Amsterdam. February 7-8, 1979(790207-790208) Meeting minutes. February 20, 1979. R.J. Reynolds Bates No. 500876941/6954
  3. An update of Projects by ICOSI's Working Party on the Social Acceptability of Smoking R.J. Reynolds. Report. May 20, 1979. Bates No.506206737/6747
  4. Tobacco industry sociological programs to influence public beliefs about smoking Landman A, Cortese D, Glantz S. Social Science and Medicine. 2008 Feb;66(4):970-81

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