Ethical Issues in Thank You for Smoking

Thank you for smoking [Motion picture]. (2006). 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The 2006 comedy/drama motion picture, Thank You for Smoking, features several ethical issues found within both everyday life and the marketing communications field. The film, directed by Jason Reitman, follows the life of Nick Naylor, a public relations professional working for big tobacco companies. Throughout the film, Naylor attempts to defend the tobacco industry and cigarettes as they come under scrutiny due to their alleged health related issues. Additionally, he spends his time out of the public eye attempting to raise his son. After Naylor is kidnapped and nearly killed, he changes his stance on the tobacco industry and the laws regarding cigarettes.

In regards to the ethical issues present within the film, the concepts of transparency and harm are clearly evident. Time and time again, we as the audience observe Naylor spinning the truth about cigarettes and the tobacco industry so as to frame them in a more positive light. In doing so, he withholds various pieces of important and relevant information from the public so as not to alter their perception of cigarettes and their parent tobacco companies in a negative light. For instance, at one point in the film, Naylor goes into his son’s classroom for the school’s “bring a parent in day.” During his time speaking with the children, Naylor lacks transparency as he consistently leaves out how cigarettes are bad for you. At one point, Naylor is even asked by a student if cigarettes are good for people and Naylor answers not with a yes or no but by relating to the kids in a manner that would make them try smoking.

The concept of harm is even more profound throughout the movie. However, some instances are more prominent than others. For example, a clear display of harm can be observed in the harm being done to society and the general consumer. Through Naylor and the big tobacco corporation’s transparency, consumers are not allowed to make an appropriately informed decision about purchasing cigarettes. A less clear example of harm can be seen in the harm being done to Nick Naylor’s son, Joey Naylor. Due to his father’s general dislike from the public and Nick’s antics at Joey’s “bring a parent in day,” Joey is painted in the same light as his father and therefore has his social interests set back because of it.

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