(Anti-) Smoking, Complexity and U.S. Public Law 111-31

Using The United States’ The Family Smoking and Prevention Act (Public Law 111-31) as an example, complexity is inherent to anti-tobacco policy and how unexpected factors emerge once such a divisive policy is enacted. Passed during President Barack Obama’s first administration, The Family Smoking and Prevention Act (Public Law 111-31) became the most sweeping regulatory support in combatting a leading cause of preventable death in the United States that have been scientifically linked to tobacco use. The Family Smoking and Prevention Act did not take away access to tobacco to consumers of age. Tobacco is sold legally, under the continued regulatory oversight from the Federal Food and Drug Administration. Newly ‘strengthened’ regulatory powers supplied by this act works to ensure the “safest” possible tobacco products sold to U.S. consumers using the most ethical forms of marketing to the public. Safe is certainly used loosely here. The sale of tobacco as ethical is another question. But tobacco is legal to use for those of age to use the product. What is allowed from a regulatory standpoint by this Act is targeting sales, marketing and distribution channels.
Upon maximization, the virtuous goal is to optimize the desired benefit of tobacco control policy, thereby saving lives and improving quality of life from morbidity and mortality related to tobacco use.

“This legislation will not ban all tobacco products, and it will allow adults to make their own choices…We know that even with the passage of this legislation, our work to protect our children and improve the public’s health is not complete.”, President Barack Obama during the signing of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (2009)

“Deliberate or orderly steps are not an accurate portrayal of how the policy process actually works. Policy making is, instead, a complexly interactive process without beginning or end.” (Lindblom & Woodhouse, 1993).

President Obama’s statement illustrates the depth and limitations of the powers of policy and portends systemic mess that could possibly ensure even under the most noble of intention. From his statement, we can take away that the following issues are central to the prescript of the law.

1. Increasing regulation of a legal product, in this case, tobacco.
2. Blocking tobacco advertisements from children within a specified distance of schools and parks.
3. Making flavored tobacco distribution illegal. Menthol is excluded from this ban.
4. All harmful chemicals must be fully disclosed to the smoker along with graphic fear appeals on the labelling.
5. Public Safety overrides autonomous actions of the consumer. Some elements of the society, such as children, require higher ethical safeguards which require the power of policy behind it.
Is an advertisement on the way home from the park that falls outside of the banned quadrant acceptable? By the letter of the policy, it is allowed. Is it ethical at the point of exposure to the ad or to the mere possibility of exposure to the marketing? Menthol is exempt from federal ban. Menthol would be a gustatory nightmare that does not leave a smoker’s breath or lungs minty fresh. I would rethink a pint of vanilla bean and menthol ice cream, but the immense popularity of the menthol flavor in tobacco does not require a sugar cone. It requires demand. Do we have enough room on the carton? It is going to have to be microscopic font and some gory images.
I am a never-smoker but that reality does coat my social and intellectual observations of the “smoker”. When I have stood behind someone purchasing tobacco, I have marveled at the specification given by the customer when requesting a cigarette. The customer recalls with exact precision of the colors on the box, the shelf location, and the nature of acrid, intoxicating smell wafting from the creases of the box.

Nope…Yes, the box right there on the second shelf next to the Ultra non-filtered. I want those menthol non-filtered buy one, get one. It will be debit card. And a lighter.

Cigarette smokers have been found to have very high levels of brand loyalty (see Dawes, 2013). The smoker knows the brand, down to the flavor, even recalling the specifications of the box that they want. At times, perhaps another perceived equivalent cigarette will do just this once and buy a comparable brand if the requested one is not available (Dawes, 2013). For others, not having their brand is a game breaker. Dawes (2013) in his analysis of U.S. cigarette consumer panel data uncovered the strong power of perception in cigarette branding.
1. A smoker that purchases high end cigarettes most likely will not lower the expectation of the quality perception by buying a generic brand.
2. If there is a female aesthetic on the box, men will not bite at all even when the call of nicotine gnaws. They will look for a cowboy or something testosterone driven in marketing appearance.
3. Price point does matter.
4. If you want overwhelming consumer loyalty, market to a smoker.
(Dawes, 2012)
But is packaging the end of the story? It is only one of parameters churning.
Voluntarily taking the smokes off of the shelves is a different animal altogether. What if a pharmacy decides to no longer sell tobacco which in 2014 was being tried? The smoker may choose to patronize a competing pharmacy that still sells the desired product. In order to offset the loss of sales in tobacco, what other measures will be set in place by the corporation to keep the smoker in their pharmacy a happy customer for other durable goods or leverage opportunities to bring in more new customers to offset the effects of losing smokers’ business? From a public health standpoint, good job for removing tobacco. From a business standpoint, will that smoker decide to move his prescriptions to a rival pharmacy? From a system dynamics view, a business move that diminishes returns is a negative feedback while increasing returns is positive (see Sterman, 2000). While there are standalone pharmacies that only dispense medication, many pharmacies double as quick convenience stores. A smoker is a goldmine. There will be medications on the horizon, if not filled already, to treat the morbidities related to smoking.
How can the tobacco removal spin work, really? Will the spiel from the CEO announcing the policy to remove the tobacco products lose resonance once the Twitter frenzy ensues farther diluting the intended corporate message. Once a message is viral on social media, the more removed the policy machine becomes and the message becomes more susceptible to distortion and emotion. Does the removal of tobacco tricked to higher prices across all products in order to make up for the projected loss of profit? Does a nonsmoker care about using a tobacco free business if he never bought or consumed the product at that time of service? What effect, in the long term, will removing tobacco from one chain have on tobacco related outcomes? Will other pharmacy chains follow suit? As you can see, these policy tentacles overlap and intertwine.

Dawes, John G., Cigarette Brand Loyalty and Purchase Patterns: An Examination Using US Consumer Panel Data (August 9, 2012). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2126951 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2126951.

Lindblom, Charles E. and Edward J. Woodhouse. 1993. The Policy Making Process, 3 Edition.Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Sterman, J. (2000). Business Dynamics-Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World. Boston: The McGraw-Hill Companies.




About Michele Battle-Fisher

This is an archive of the Orgcomplexity Blog. Please follow me at the following sites: mbattlefisher.wix.com/orgcomplexity Michele Battle-Fisher (Facebook author page) www.linkedin.com/in/mbattlefisher mbattlefisher (Twitter) michele.battle.fisher (Skype) Author Website http://amazon.com/author/michelebattlefisher

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