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Public outreach about tobacco & fossil fuel industry disinformation

Saturday we were at Leiden Knowledge Festival for our project with Universiteit Leiden and Reclame Fossielvrij. Visitors could do our quiz on tobacco, fossil fuels, & health, and peruse tobacco and fossil fuel ads next to subvertised versions by Fossielvrij NL [1] and Michelle Tylicki (Insta: @shelkadelic, [2]).

Many found it incredible what tobacco companies got away with – for example, using doctors in ads at a time when more and more studies were showing a link to lung cancer. Despite a ban in 2003, vaping ads appeared in De Telegraaf disguised as an information campaign [3]. Fortunately, an investigation by Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit (NVWA) found that they broke the law [4].

Polluting companies use similar tactics of disinformation, “harm reduction” and association with trusted authority. Their greenwashing is not without resistance – KLM was taken to court and lost [5]; adverts from Shell have been condemned by the Stichting Reclame Code multiple times [6].

Infiltration & distortion of medical science is a key tactic of the tobacco industry, documented in the website by the Tobacco Control Research Group of University of Bath [7]. Some journals are fighting back, refusing to publish research co-sponsored by the tobacco industry [8]. The fossil fuel industry has also sought to discredit a link between air pollution and health: “Industry-funded consultants published studies disputing the link between emissions & deteriorating health or simply disparaged the work of other researchers” [9]

We will be digging deeper into this in the future – stay tuned!

Anne E. UraiAndrew LittlejohnMartine DoppenAndrea Reyes Elizondo