The film Thank You for Smoking illuminates the issues of disassociating business and ethics with more than a hint of dark comedy. Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is a man with a job that requires, as he puts it, “moral flexibility.” As the chief spokesperson and lobbyist for the Academy for Tobacco Studies, Nick receives and then spins blasts on behalf of the tobacco industry. He is also a member of the three person self-titled group “The Merchants of Death,” made up of a woman who works on the Moderation Council in the alcohol business, a man of the gun business’ own advisory safety group, and Nick himself. They frequently debate who has killed more people in their lifetime through work in their industry. Their commitment to these large corporations’ profit, which coincide with their own, exemplify shareholder theory to the extreme.
Nick discusses the “beauty of argument” in this scene. I found this relatable to our ethics discussions in class. It really illuminates the problem of there being no clear-cut objective answer when deciding if a company or industry is behaving in an ethical manner, one way where laws and ethics differ. Some, like the tobacco industry, seem to be more unethical than others, but if one spins it the right way or does enough to get out of the doghouse, the perception of the company and it’s public image might change all together. Of course, for any company, or industry in the case of this movie, bad publicity means bad business. Just ask Nike CEO Phil Knight.
As Nick says in the ice cream scene, he’s not after those bashing the tobacco industry, he’s “after them” (the public and potential customers). He doesn’t need to prove he himself is right, he just needs to prove the person he is arguing against isn’t, which thus creates a grey area. Nick’s method here in his ice cream example was to prove that the debate itself was inherently wrong and shouldn’t have been brought up in the first place; because it goes against everything a democratic and capitalist society stands for. This is the same technique he uses throughout the entire movie backing the tobacco corporations, and more specifically, arguing against the need for the skull and cross bones label on cigarette packs.
I enjoyed Nick’s ice cream analogy. Of course I don’t feel that it provided the right context, seeing as vanilla and chocolate ice cream won’t have any grave dangers associated with choosing one over the other. Obviously, smoking cigarettes results in more harm to society than it does value. Regardless, it is interesting to see how corporations and their advocates use logic and debate tactics to escape ethical questions that most would think should have consequences.