The arguments for and against the marketing of new tobacco products in Brazil

Astudy by the Instituto de Saúde Pública da Universidade do Porto (ISPUP) sought to discover the arguments used by advocates and opponents of the marketing and commercialisation of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco in Brazil, at the three key moments of political discussion (2009, 2018 and 2019) with the purpose of creating legislation related to the consumption of these new tobacco products.

The goal? To provide information that makes it possible to predict and respond to the arguments put forward in the context of defining policies related to the control of the consumption of nicotine-containing products.

The Brazilian context

Brazil is one of the world’s leading tobacco producers and the tobacco industry has a relevant weight in the country’s economy.

In the 1980s, a very intensive tobacco control policy was implemented in the country, which led to a significant reduction in the prevalence of tobacco consumption among the population. 

In 2008-2009, the marketing and commercialisation of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco was banned following a public consultation conducted by Anvisa, the Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency. After pressure from the tobacco industry, political discussion on the issue resumed in 2018 and 2019 with the aim of revising the legislation in force.

During these three moments, several stakeholders were heard, namely the tobacco industry, consumers’ associations, politicians, workers’ unions, public health professionals, medical associations and universities. At these discussions, arguments for and against the marketing and commercialisation of new tobacco products were presented, with the aim of influencing the maintenance or creation of new legislation.

According to Teresa Leão, ISPUP researcher who coordinated the study published in the scientific journal Tobacco Control, “we wanted to understand who were the main actors involved in the political discussions on the marketing and commercialisation of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco, in the three years in which there were public debates on the subject – 2009, 2018 and 2019 – and analyse what their positioning was and the reasons given by those who were for or against the marketing of these products. In parallel, we analysed whether there was a change in the arguments used by the various stakeholders during the ten-year period that separated the public hearing sessions.”

The proponents and the opponents

Among the supporters of the marketing and commercialisation of novel tobacco products were the tobacco industry, consumer groups, companies marketing tobacco products (such as kiosks), politicians from tobacco producing regions and workers’ unions.

Opponents included the Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency, consumer protection organisations, university representatives (from Brazil to the United States of America), and medical and anti-smoking institutions (notably related to cancer prevention, pulmonology, oncology, etc.).

The arguments used

The proponents of the marketing and commercialisation of these products used arguments related to the fewer harmful effects of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco compared to conventional tobacco during the 2009 political discussions. In the 2018 and 2019 sessions, they pointed out the benefits of their commercialisation for the Brazilian economy, the importance of legalising these products for the prevention of smuggling and quality guaranty.

Opponents, on the other hand, exposed arguments related to the lack of evidence on the safety of new tobacco products for health and their lack of effectiveness in helping to abandon conventional tobacco, during the 2009 discussions. Years later, they began to focus their discourse on the aggressive marketing techniques carried out by tobacco companies in order to encourage the consumption of these products among young people. 

The importance of the study

According to Teresa Leão, “it was important to understand that the scientific evidence produced over the years allowed more precautionary arguments to be brought up for debate, especially ones related to the risks associated with these types of products, namely among teenagers. And it was interesting to see that, after 10 years, moral and economic justifications began to carry more weight in the discourse of those in favour of the commercialisation of these products”, she says. 

For the ISPUP researcher, this article is especially relevant to those involved in discussions about controlling the consumption of tobacco products: “The identification and analysis of the arguments used by these actors, especially those presented by tobacco companies, in the context of public policy definition, allows public health professionals in Brazil and other countries to better prepare themselves and respond to these arguments more assertively,” she concludes.

The article, entitled Arguments used by proponents and opponents in Brazil’s regulatory discussions of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, also features the participation of ISPUP researcher Mônica Nunes-Rubinstein.