Greenwashing tobacco—attempts to eco-label a killer product

  • Frank HoughtonEmail author
  • Sharon Houghton
  • Diane O’Doherty
  • Derek McInerney
  • Bruce Duncan


The European Union currently prohibits the use of eco-labelling on tobacco products. Although “Big Tobacco” has overtly embraced Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), it would be naïve not to view this move as anything other than an attempt to hide a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The history of deceit and malpractice that typifies the global tobacco industry speaks for itself. Cigarettes are not simply another product. Tobacco-related illness kills one in two of its users. The global death toll from tobacco will soon be eight million annually. In light of these practitioners in the fields of life cycle assessment (LCA) and social life cycle assessment (S-LCA) should not cooperate with moves to “greenwash” this deadly product.


Tobacco control Corporate social responsibility Life cycle assessment (LCA) Social life cycle assessment (S-LCA) Ethics 


Compliance with ethical standards

No human subjects or animals were involved in this paper.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Brandt AM (2012) Inventing conflicts of interest: a history of tobacco industry tactics. Am J Public Health 102(1):63–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brécard D, Hlaimi B, Lucas S, Perraudeau Y, Salladarré F (2009) Determinants of demand for green products: an application to eco-label demand for fish in Europe. Ecol Econ 69:115–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Campbell C (2001) Should Nottingham University give back its tobacco money? BMJ 322(7294):1119Google Scholar
  4. Chapman S (2004) Advocacy in action: extreme corporate makeover interruptus: denormalising tobacco industry corporate schmoozing. Tob Control 13:445–447. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chapman S, Shatenstein S (2001) The ethics of the cash register: taking tobacco research dollars. Tob Control 10(1):1–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cohen JE (2001) Universities and tobacco money: some universities are accomplices in the tobacco epidemic. BMJ 323(7303):1–2CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cummings KM, Gustafson JW, Sales DJ, Khuri FR, Warren GW (2015) Business as usual is not acceptable. Cancer 121(17):2864–2865CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dalton R (2003) Academics fume as university refuses to reject tobacco dollars. Nature 422:361CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Drope J, Schluger N, Cahn Z, Drope J, Hamill S, Islami F, Liber A, Nargis N, Stoklosa M. (2018). The tobacco atlas. Atlanta: American Cancer Society and Vital StrategiesGoogle Scholar
  10. European Union. (2014). Tobacco Products Directive. Directive 2014/40/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 April 2014 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products and repealing Directive 2001/37/EC Text with EEA relevanceGoogle Scholar
  11. European Environment Agency. (1997). Life cycle assessment (LCA): a guide to approaches, experiences and information sources. Environmental Issues Series no.6. European Environment AgencyGoogle Scholar
  12. Farsalinos KE. (2017). Chapter one- introduction to E-cigarettes. In Analytical assessment of E-cigarettes 1–8Google Scholar
  13. Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)Google Scholar
  14. Francey N, Chapman S (2000) “Operation Berkshire”: the international tobacco companies’ conspiracy. BMJ 321(7257):371–374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Friedman LC (2009) Tobacco industry use of corporate social responsibility tactics as a sword and a shield on secondhand smoke issues. J Law Med Ethics 37(4):819–827CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. GABI Software. (nd). Customer detail: British American Tobacco.
  17. Glantz SA, Slade J, Bero LA, Hanauer P, Barnes DE (1996) The cigarette papers. University of California Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  18. Henriksen L (2012) Comprehensive tobacco marketing restrictions: promotion, packaging, price and place. Tob Control 21(2):147–153. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hirschhorn N (2004) Corporate social responsibility and the tobacco industry: hope or hype? Tob Control 13:447–453. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. King J (2006) Accepting tobacco industry money for research: has anything changed now that harm reduction is on the agenda? Addiction 101(8):1067–1069CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kluger R. (1996). Ashes to ashes. America’s hundred-year cigarette war, the public health, and the unabashed triumph of Philip Morris. Vintage Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  22. Lee S, Ling PM, Glantz SA. (2012). Cancer causes control, 23(Suppl 1), 117Google Scholar
  23. Mayor S (2004) UK universities agree protocol for tobacco company funding. BMJ 329(7456):9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Michaels D (2008) Doubt is their product: how industry’s assault on science threatens your health. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. Novotny TE et al (2014) Tobacco product waste: an environmental approach to reduce tobacco consumption. Curr Environ Health Rep 6, 1:208–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Novotny TE, Aguinaga Bialous S, Burt L, Curtis C, Luiza da Costa V, Usman Iqtidar S, Liu Y, Pujari S, Tursan d’Espaignet E (2015) The environmental and health impacts of tobacco agriculture, cigarette manufacture and consumption. Bull World Health Organ 93:877–880CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. O’Sullivan B, Chapman S (2000) Eyes on the prize: transnational tobacco companies in China 1976–1997. Tob Control 9:292–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Öberga M, Woodward A, Jaakkolac MS, Perugad A, Prüss-Ustüne A (2010) Global estimate of the burden of disease from second-hand smoke. WHO, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  29. Orestes N, Conway EM (2010) Merchants of doubt: how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. Bloomsbury Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. Parguel B, Benoît-Moreau F, Larceneux F (2011) How sustainability ratings might deter ‘greenwashing’: a closer look at ethical corporate communication. J Bus Ethics 102:15–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Proctor RN (2011) Golden holocaust: origins of the cigarette catastrophe and the case for abolition. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  32. Rainier Stebbins K (2001) Going like gangbusters: transnational tobacco companies “making a killing” in South America. Med Anthropol Q 15(2):147–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Randjelovic J, O’Rourke AR, Orsato RJ (2003) The emergence of green venture capital. Bus Strateg Environ 12(4):240–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Smith R (2001) Should Nottingham University give back its tobacco money? BMJ 322(7294):1118–1119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stebbins KR (2001) Going like gangbusters: transnational tobacco companies “making a killing” in South America. Med Anthropol Q 15:147–170. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Steinberg ML, Williams JM, Ziedonis DM (2004) Financial implications of cigarette smoking among individuals with schizophrenia. Tob Control 13:206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Stone M, Siegel MB (2004) Tobacco industry sponsorship of community-based public health initiatives: why AIDS and domestic violence organizations accept or refuse funds. J Public Health Manag Pract 10(6):511–517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Teisl MF, Roe B, Hicks RL (2002) Can eco-labels tune a market? Evidence from dolphin-safe labelling. J Environ Econ Manag 43:339–359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. United Nations Environment Programme. (2009). Guidelines for social life cycle assessment of products. UNEPGoogle Scholar
  40. World Health Organization (2003) Tobacco industry and corporate inherent contradiction. World Health Organization Tobacco Free Initiative, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  41. World Health Organization (2005) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. WHO, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  42. World Health Organization (2008) Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2008: the MPOWER package. World Health Organization, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  43. World Health Organization. (2013). WHO report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2013: enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. World Health Organization, LuxembourgGoogle Scholar
  44. World Health Organization (2017) Tobacco and its impact: an overview. WHO, GenevaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© AESS 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Applied Social ScienceLimerick Institute of TechnologyLimerickIreland
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of LimerickLimerickIreland
  3. 3.Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS)University of LimerickLimerickIreland
  4. 4.Department of BusinessLimerick Institute of TechnologyLimerickIreland
  5. 5.Public Health UnitHauora TairawhitiGisborneNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations