Public Relations

Deadly Deception: The Tobacco Industry's Secondhand Smoke Cover Up

SmokingMany of the of the tobacco industry's underhanded strategies and tactics have been exposed, thanks to landmark legal cases and the hard work of public health advocates. But we are still uncovering the shocking lengths to which the industry has gone to protect itself from public health measures like smoking bans. Now we can thank the city of Pueblo, Colorado, for an opportunity to look a little bit deeper into how the industry managed the deadly deceptions around secondhand smoke.

A new study, now the ninth of its type and the most comprehensive one yet, has shown a major reduction in hospital admissions for heart attacks after a smoke-free law was put into effect.

On July 1, 2003, the relatively isolated city of Pueblo, Colorado enacted an ordinance that prohibited smoking in workplaces and indoor public areas, including bars and restaurants. For the study, researchers reviewed hospital admissions for heart attacks among area residents for one year prior to, and three years after the ban, and compared the data to two other nearby areas that didn't have bans (the part of Pueblo County outside city limits, and El Paso County, which includes Colorado Springs). Researchers found that during the three years after the ban, hospital admissions for heart attacks dropped 41 percent inside the city of Pueblo, but found no significant change in admissions for heart attacks in the other two control areas.

Eight studies done prior to this one in other locales used similar techniques and yielded similar results, but covered shorter periods of time -- usually about one year after the smoking ban went into effect. The results of this longer, more comprehensive study support the view that not only does secondhand smoke have a significant short-term impact on heart function, but that lives, and money, are probably being saved by new laws proliferating around the world in recent years that minimize public exposure to secondhand smoke.

The Clean Coal Bait and Switch

David Roberts, an environmental writer for Grist.com, has written a great critique of the coal industry's "clean coal" campaign, pointing out that "it's an obvious scam -- easily exposed, easily debunked. Just because it's obvious, though, doesn't mean the media won't fall for it. Indeed, the entire 'clean coal' propaganda push is premised on the media's gullibility." Roberts notes, as have others, including a recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP), that "the companies funding 'clean coal' PR aren't spending much on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) research." They have therefore made no progress in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that make coal a potent cause of global warming. The concept of "clean coal" was invented to answer concerns about global warming, and its advocates play a rhetorical game of bait-and-switch on precisely this topic. When pressed about how coal can be clean, Roberts observes, "they revert to the other definition of 'clean' -- the notion that coal plants have reduced their emissions of traditional air pollutants like particulates and mercury (as opposed to greenhouse gases)."

Cause-Related Marketing Goes to the Dogs

dog wearing glassesThe economic downturn is hitting the pet industry, too. To compete in a crowded and shrinking market, Mars' dog food brand Pedigree will buy its first-ever Super Bowl ads. But, rather than directly advertising their dog food, Pedigree will promote dog adoptions.

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America Scams You: Allison Barber's Many "No-No's"

There's a telling email exchange quoted in the Defense Department Inspector General's report (pdf) on America Supports You (ASY), a Pentagon program launched in 2004, ostensibly to boost troop morale.

Allison BarberAllison Barber, who founded and led ASY until her recent resignation as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Internal Communications and Public Liaison (and who infamously helped President Bush stage a teleconference with troops in Iraq), asked in a June 2004 email: "Overseas, we make troops [not living on military bases] buy a digital receiver for their televisions so they can see AFRTS," the American Forces Radio and Television Service. "Is there a way for me to make this situation know [sic] to corporate America and offer them the option of 'sponsoring' a receiver? So the receiver might have a sticker on it that says 'brought to you by Sears'."

An attorney with the Defense Department's Standards of Conduct Office responded sharply: "Of course, you may not solicit anyone, especially corporate America, to sponsor the receivers. That's a no-no."

More Pentagon Problems with PR and Propaganda

Stop Government Funded PropagandaThe Pentagon's Inspector General has concluded that the "Defense Department's public affairs office may have 'inappropriately' merged public affairs and propaganda operations in 2007 and 2008 when it contracted out $1 million in work for a strategic communications plan for u

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The 2008 Falsies Awards: In Memory of the First Casualty

There's nothing quite like a hotly contested election. The candidates have their devoted supporters and angry detractors. Then there are vigorous debates over the issues, while some people question the integrity of the entire process.

Coveted Falsie AwardsWe speak, of course, of the Falsies Awards.

This year marks the Center for Media and Democracy's (CMD's) fifth annual Falsies Awards. The Falsies are our attempt to shine an unflattering light on those responsible for polluting the information environment over the past year. We're happy to report that more people -- nearly 1,450 -- voted in this year's Falsies survey than ever before! We're also bestowing special recognition on one of this year's "winners."

Falsies recipients can collect their prizes -- a pair of Groucho Marx glasses, our two cents and a chance to atone for their spinning ways by making a detailed public apology -- by visiting CMD's office in Madison, Wisconsin. This year's Gold and Silver Falsies go to masters of war deception, while the Bronze Falsie recognizes a massive greenwash campaign. The first-ever Lifetime Achievement Falsie goes to a serial corporate front man, while a determined (if at times laughable) attempt at nation re-branding wins dishonorable mention. Then there are the Readers' Choice Falsies and Win Against Spin Awards, nominated by our survey participants.

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