Think Piece: Thank You for Smoking

I wrote this for a class I took this past semester on Communication Ethics.


Thank You for Smoking is a satirical comedy-drama film that poses several ethical questions and dilemmas that the tobacco industry has faced in real life.

The film points out how when it became known that smoking cigarettes causes all sorts of health problems such as lung cancer, the tobacco industry knew that this would be a threat to their livelihood.

Enter Nick Naylor, a spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies.  He is a powerful and hated lobbyist who who does everything in his power to get people to doubt that cigarettes are harmful, and that nonetheless, people should be able to choose to smoke cigarettes if they wish to do so.

The main ethical issue of the film (or at least, one of the main ethical issues) is about why should a company be able to sell a harmful product to the public.  Naylor points out that scientific studies (which have been funded by tobacco companies, and are certainly falsified) have found no conclusive evidence either way to prove or disprove that tobacco is harmful.  However, any of Naylor’s words and arguments are bogus due to the studies.  Nonetheless, through creating doubt, he is able to increase the odds that a child or teenager may just someday make the decision to smoke cigarettes when they become of legal age.

Throughout the film, there is much time devoted to showing Nick trying to justify his life’s work to his son.  It is interesting from an ethical perspective because it calls into question how a parent is supposed to deal with that.

Nick has a personal dilemma when he is forcibly given a nicotine overdose.  Nick is saved only by the fact that he is a smoker, but is told that he must stop smoking in order to stay alive.  Despite this, he accepts the consequences of his actions, and he remains firm that if an adult has knowledge of the harm that cigarettes do, then they should be allowed to make the decision to smoke.