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Cigarettes still legal? Tobacco's impact on public health policy

Michael Robert Nicholson (School of Business Administration, University of Technology, Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica)

Publication date: 9 July 2019


Learning outcomes

This case focuses on ethics issues arising from the tobacco trade. Government as regulator of that trade and guardian of public health faced complex political, financial and ethical issues in discharge of its responsibilities. The harms resulting from tobacco use were well-known and had generally attracted adverse decisions from governments everywhere. The company offering tobacco products for sale, Carreras Ltd., had generally continued to do well financially despite those adverse decisions. Government, in the present case, had introduced legislation to penalize tobacco use in public places, and in so doing, raised several ethical issues such as punishing smokers for using a legal, widely distributed product; classifying cigarettes as harmful to health yet allowing its wide distribution and sale; continuing to derive substantial tax revenue from sale of a harmful product; enabling Carreras to profit from sale of said harmful product; offering little help to smokers to break their nicotine addiction. Students should be asked to identify and recommend solutions to the ethical issues faced by: the government and its “point man”, the Minister of Health as they sought to reduce the public’s use of a harmful product. The smoker who may be even addicted to a product is known to cause or contribute to a host of serious diseases. Students were to identify and recommend solutions to ethical issues faced by the players in the case. One of these players was Carreras whose operations were facing severe regulatory and public relations headwinds. Another was the nonsmoking public whose health was put at risk even though they did not use the product. The sentences could be reworded to read; Carreras, in its continued efforts to justify selling a harmful product. Nonsmokers who, despite not using the product, suffered adverse health consequences because of its use by others.

Case overview/synopsis

Cigarette smoking has been linked to a long list of serious diseases including several cancers, cardio-vascular disease, pulmonary ailments and stroke. Despite several government actions over the years to reduce cigarette smoking, it remained widespread and continued to take a heavy toll on public health. The government’s latest gambit, the Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations introduced in 2013, represented the first legislation specifically designed to restrain smoking in “public places”. Carreras Ltd., a subsidiary of British American Tobacco (BAT), had been the only significant provider of cigarettes in Jamaica for several decades and in the period allocated for public feedback, mounted a fierce assault on the Regulations, and galvanized other private sector interests to join in that effort. The case addresses the interaction between government’s roles as guardian and financier of public health, the public’s right of choice, and a company’s right to sell a legal product, albeit one deemed harmful to public health. That government derived substantial tax receipts from trade in that product added another layer of complexity to the matter. The Minister of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, was the government’s point man and our protagonist.

Complexity academic level

Final year University students of Management would have been exposed to ethics theories. Many management courses do not devote enough effort to the study of the interplay between the ethical, financial, and legal and the issues that can arise therefrom to complicate decision-making. The case was structured to invite exploration of this interplay.

Supplementary materials

Teaching Notes are available for educators only. Please contact your library to gain login details or email to request teaching notes.

Subject code

CSS 11: Strategy



Disclaimer: This case is written solely for educational purposes and is not intended to represent successful or unsuccessful managerial decision making. The authors may have disguised names; financial and other recognizable information to protect confidentiality.


Nicholson, M.R. (2019), "Cigarettes still legal? Tobacco's impact on public health policy", , Vol. 9 No. 1.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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