Big tobacco, young targets

A film by Paul Moreira, with Pedro Brito Da Fonseca


In the 21st century, tobacco will continue to kill 8 million people each year.
More than the dead of all the wars, nuclear attacks and the deadliest diseases malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, put together.

To reach such a commercial success, tobacco companies have used every trick in the book to sell their deadly product; blatant or illegal, furtive or camouflaged advertising, corruption, ignoring or omitting scientific or medical data, mass manipulation, political influence…

For decades, the tobacco industry lied about the dangers of cigarettes. Then, back tracking little by little, they maintained an industry of doubt. They had to let people think that maybe tobacco wasn’t that dangerous, that there was still doubt, that certain facts could be “interpreted”, that everything was subjective…

But how to gain fresh new customers as the “old” most faithful ones are dying?

All the more as a series of public health measures have limited their activity in developed countries. No smoking in public spaces, prohibition to sell to minors, etc. And scientific and medical facts appear as label warnings on each packet of cigarettes: smoking kills, causes cancer, provokes heart attacks…

Here is the challenge of the tobacco industry, which will do whatever it takes to remain profitable.

Despite the obstacles, the cigarette industry continues to find new customers – among young people. In both developed and poor countries. Brand loyalty is created at a young age; 80% of heavy smokers started before the age of 18. 30-yearl-old beginners are very rare among smokers.

While they need to appear socially responsible in rich countries – which makes it harder to hook new consumers through nicotine addiction – the tobacco companies resort to more aggressive methods in third-world countries. Like giving free samples or staging public events that attract the youth and where they promote their products.

All big brands such as Philip Morris have officially committed to leave young people out of their target. But this investigation shows how the tobacco industry continues to target kids first and foremost.

This investigation is a timeline through decades of manipulation. Reporter Paul Moreira uncovers the workings of the 20th century’s greatest conspiracy: a dirty, commercial war, where the armed wing of corporate communication – the public relations firms – is on the frontline. Corporations, which turnover equals developed nations’ revenue, can afford to buy out scientists, politicians, experts, lobbyists. With one bottom line: secure ever more profits.

  • Best documentary - Deauville Green Awards2014
  • Selected at the CIJ London Investigative Film Festival2014