Tobacco Marketing: A Career Path to Avoid


By Gary Slack

For college students or young professionals early in their careers, there are hundreds and hundreds of career paths out there to pursue. May I suggest that you think twice, about entering certain fields, especially tobacco marketing.

Of all the products and services you could help promote, tobacco is arguably the number one worst choice. Unlike practically anything else, tobacco is the one product that when used according to directions can kill people.

Working for Big Tobacco can be attractive. Formerly known as Phillip Morris, Altria employs 9,000 people and has a rather high 3.8 rating on Glassdoor, the employer reviews site. Looking at several dozen of its 587 reviews, the main “Pro” seems to be excellent pay, but a common “Con” is that you have to be comfortable selling tobacco.

We’ve known cigarettes to be a threat to human health since the 1960s with the release of the famous Surgeon General report in 1964. Actually, tobacco products were being talked about as harmful going back many decades earlier.

I am very anti-tobacco (can you tell?) due to having worked on smoking cessation programs earlier in my career, but I actually have a reasonable amount of empathy for tobacco farmers, who have relatively limited vocational mobility.

It’s tobacco company executives—including people who work at Altria and other cigarette manufacturers—who I have a lot less empathy for, as there are so many other career paths they could have gone down.

But it’s tobacco marketers I have the least empathy for (in fact, none at all), as marketers have unfettered vocational mobility. Working in a PR or ad agency that works for tobacco companies—what does that say about you, not just now but for all time? You will be permanently tainted and stained.

My agency WILL NOT consider any candidate who has ever spent a moment working at Leo Burnett, Altria’s long-time ad agency, or any other agency with tobacco clients. Not even if they worked on other clients and never Altria.  Call it second-hand stain.

Strong opinions, I know, but there’ll only be more and more agency owners and hiring managers like me in the future. Smoke tobacco if you have to, but don’t work for it unless you have no scruples whatsoever.

gary-slack Gary Slack is the chief experience officer of Slack and Company, one of the world’s leading business-to-business marketing agencies. He started his career at Porter Novelli, known for its smoking cessation work. When his boss, Bill Novelli, later took the helm of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Gary handed out flyers at a Leo Burnett company event in the 1990s encouraging the agency to resign its Phillip Morris business. No surprise, the noble effort failed.




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