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Sunday, April 24, 2022

Tailpipes Are The New Smoking

Image via KngEVrythINg

If you want to know the future of the vehicle tailpipe, a look at the history of smoking might provide a glimpse of what may come to be. The history of public smoking can give you a clue to the evolution of public sentiment and how the industry might resist. 

Smoking Heyday

When I was a kid in the 1970s, smoking was common nearly everywhere. When you went to a restaurant, most seats were in the smoking section. In most restaurants, there was a small non-smoking section, but the smoky air didn't obey the signs and billowed into these token areas as well as every other corner of the room. People smoked as they walked the grocery store aisles, they smoked while standing in line at the bank... it was ubiquitous.

Secondhand Sentiment

In the 80s this started changing. Driven by secondhand smoke concerns, the Smokefree Workplace Law passed in 1981. Many smokers were outraged. They were relegated to designated smoking areas instead of having free run of the place. Bars, casinos, and similar areas were excluded from this initial law, but the smoke-free zones continued to expand. 

Lighting A Fire Under The Tobacco Industry 

If the smokers were upset, the tobacco industry was livid. They had a cash cow and it was being threatened. They had made billions selling "coffin nails" and they were going to spend some of these funds to ensure they could make even more profits.

The tobacco industry used multiple tactics to delay and fight these laws. They hired PR firms, lobbyists, lawyers, and more. They attacked and attempted to undermine policies to protect people from secondhand smoke. They talked about smokers' rights ignoring the fact that the smoke was violating other people's right to clean air and, oh, not dying!

They used misinformation campaigns*. For nearly three decades, the tobacco industry had evidence that secondhand smoke was a health hazard, but they publicly denied it.

The strategy was to use a campaign of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). 

Or is that what we see when you drive?

Fear - Putting the F in FUD

The fear aspects included telling people that their freedom of choice was being taken away. This was just the first step to the government telling you how to live every aspect of your life. The propaganda continued claiming that these laws would turn smokers into criminals. 

Another one of the fear tactics was jobs. That's right, if these laws passed, they said, people would lose their jobs. This propaganda was primarily aimed at the hospitality associations, such as restaurant, bar, and hotel associations. If one of these establishments became non-smoking, then smokers would go someplace else; the establishment would lose money and have to lay people off. In cases where such associations didn't exist, the tobacco industry created them “to serve as the tobacco industry’s surrogate in fighting against smoke-free environments.”* 

Uncertainty & Doubt 

The uncertainty campaign was multipronged. It included astroturf groups that the tobacco industry founded, influenced, and/or funded*. They had programs with lovely names such as “Living in Harmony,” “Working It Out Together,” “Respecting Choices,”  and “Preserve our Traditions.” These were designed to delay legislation, maintain the status quo, and allow the 'free market' to correct things. 

The tobacco industry promoted ventilation and air filtration technologies in hospitality venues even after these systems were proven ineffective against secondhand smoke's health impacts. 

The tobacco industry hired a cadre of consultants to discredit scientific evidence about the hazards. They lobbied against smoke-free policies and gave testimony before legislative bodies while purporting to provide a neutral voice. They undermined the credibility of health agencies and key public health reports. They prepared and submitted affidavits and offers of proof in legal actions involving secondhand smoke claims. 

The tobacco industry gave all-expenses-paid trips to journalists to “discuss” tobacco issues. They promoted research they'd funded to sympathetic journalists. They financially backed journalism schools to help ensure future journalists were sympathetic to the tobacco industry. They conducted press briefings, gave interviews, and wrote editorials and letters-to-the-editor to multiple newspapers. They published specious research in academic journals and other publications.

Legal Maneuvers

The tobacco industry mounted legal challenges based on many arguments including the following:

  • Smoking is a fundamental right
  • Local governments do not have the legal authority to pass smoke-free laws
  • Smokers and business owners were not getting “equal protection”
  • The public was not notified of smoke-free hearings
  • A business owner is entitled to compensation because a regulation renders their business unviable
  • In private clubs, the rights of members are violated by smoking regulations 
  • Smoke-free laws are difficult to enforce

The tobacco industry also sought to utilize their lobbyists and political clout to weaken legislation. The tobacco industry attempted to influence proposed smoke-free legislation by suggesting amendments to weaken the law. In some cases, these could be minor impacts such as changing a 'shall' to a 'may' that could go unnoticed, yet would greatly weaken the enforceability of the legislation. In some countries, the tobacco industry has even proposed to draft legislation itself for the government.

Smoke & Mirrors: A Tobacco Image Makeover (Greenwashing)

The latest tactic is an image makeover. Now, the tobacco industry is trying to present itself as an environmental leader (after all, the product does start by growing plants). They are also claiming to be leaders in social issues and corporate governance issues.

Tailpipes Are The New Smoking 
Image via KngEVrythINg

The Tobacco Results

Cigarettes have not been eliminated, but over the decades, their sales have been greatly reduced even as the population has increased.  

Year US Cigarette Sales
1980  628 Billion
1990  524 Billion
2000  414 Billion
2010  283 Billion
2019  203 Billion


As you can see, cigarette unit sales have been cut to less than one-third of 1980's volume. Of course, vaping and other alternatives have taken the place of some of this volume, but the trend is going down. Sadly, as cigarette sales fell year by year, the prices rose more than enough to maintain profit margins. They do sell an additive product after all.

Smoking in public places is no longer considered socially acceptable. The public mindset has shifted. There's still tolerance for people to smoke in designated areas, but there's a recognition that people that do not want to be exposed to secondhand smoke should not have to tolerate it while in public spaces.

* Tobacco Industry Misinformation campaigns


Now that we've looked at the tobacco industry in disgusting detail, let's see how this might relate to the exhaust of the auto industry. 

A Moment Of Clarity

Los Angeles and New Delhi before and after Covid lockdown 

The global pandemic of 2020 gave us the chance to see what the world looked like with our emissions drastically reduced. Skies cleared, mountain vistas (usually obscured by smog) became visible. Literally and figuratively, it was a breath of fresh air.

This moment of clarity has acted as the spark to ignite action away from tailpipe emissions similar to the way secondhand smoke was the catalyst for smoking reform. We have the right to breathe clean air. We have the right to inhale air while not taking in carcinogens. We have the right to breathe without taking years off our lives. 

The second kickstart to this movement was the high gasoline prices that resulted from the Russia-Ukraine war. If you want people to start thinking about buying an EV, raise the price at the pump.

The Snowball Begins

Change like this does not happen all at once, it starts slowly, builds, and then hits a tipping point when public sentiment shifts and serious change can occur. The groundwork is being laid for this change. Many schools have enacted idle-free zones in student pick-up and drop-off areas. This is an acknowledgment that the line of parents' cars and trucks belching out deadly fumes right where the children are is not a good thing. The first electric school buses are starting to be deployed. Electric car sales are continuing to climb. All of these are slowly changing the public consciousness. 

The Industry Response - Catch A Tiger By The Tail(pipe)

Just as the tobacco industry was not going to roll over and allow billions in profits to go up in smoke, neither is the oil industry. They are using tactics surprisingly similar to the tobacco industry. A little research explains why. The oil industry is using many of the same PR consulting firms that the tobacco industry used. 

The playbook is FUD, legal actions, greenwashing, and delay, delay, delay. Every day that things remain the same results in millions of dollars of profits, big executive bonuses; long term results to the public health and the environment be damned.


The FUD takes several angles. Deny and blameshift are a couple well-worn tactics. We've already seen claims of 'clean diesel' and 'cleaner-burning fuels.' This is like filtered cigarettes. They are polluting. These tactics allow someone to feel like they are taking steps to reduce emissions while ensuring that they continue to buy fossil fuels.

Use Legislation

As we've seen in the tobacco wars, no legislation or legal battle is too small to fight.

One advantage of driving an electric car is that it's cheaper to operate and fuel. Well, taxes can be used to take that advantage away. Here's one recent example: 

Electric vehicle owners say new Hawaii tax singles them out - KTVZ 

Greenwashing - All Talk, No Action

Oil companies have long been "talking the talk" of green energy, while not "walking the walk." A recent study compared the climate rhetoric to the climate actions of the world’s four largest oil companies – ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP – from 2009 to 2020. Researchers concluded that, despite their platitudes, the companies are not, in fact, transitioning their business models to clean energy. 

They have even gone so far as to make statements like, “producing more oil and gas while reducing emissions.” These are obviously statements intended to allow the profitable status quo to continue while managing the public so no real actions are required. 

Greenwashing - eFuels

Synthetic fuels and biofuels will be hyped as the future of combustion engines. This promise will be used to assure consumers that they can buy a vehicle with a tailpipe and not be abandoned when emission standards are increased. These fuels are incredibly inefficient to generate and transport. They are not a scalable solution; they can only offset about 5% of current oil use. This will not stop them from being dangled like a carrot on a stick to keep consumers on the current path.

Greenwash - Hyprogen (Hyping Hydrogen) 

Hydrogen is often touted as the fuel of the future. Claims such as, "The only emission is water from the tailpipe," and "Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe," are often touted. These claims are specious. Yes, hydrogen is abundant, but it's chemically sticky. It takes a lot of energy to pry it from these chemical bonds. It's true that the only emissions from an H2 vehicle is water vapor, but hydrogen generation is another story. The vast majority (99%) of hydrogen produced today is brown or gray hydrogen. This means that H2 production creates a significant amount of emissions.

From a costs perspective, today fueling with H2 is equivalent to paying about $8 per gallon for gasoline. This price ensures that oil will continue to be pumped from the ground for a long time if you expect H2 to be the fuel of the future. This explains why oil companies might want to promote hydrogen as the future of transportation. 

Wrapping Up - Chasing Your Own Tail(pipe)

We've seen all these moves before. The oil industry is using an old playbook. It's a multipronged approach. If a single strategy were used, it would be easy to take apart that one strategy. However, the multipronged approach is more difficult to tackle. Consumers need to understand who is backing various legislation, who is donating to legislators, the physics of various alternative fuels, as well as be willing to overcome status quo bias... none of these are easy; doing all of them is nearly impossible. 

The simpler, more straightforward, approach is to electrify transportation; use electric delivery vans and semi-trucks, use electric buses and school buses, and use electric vehicles for personal transportation. Any legislation that opposes this in any form should be scrutinized. This is the decade that EVs will cross-the-chasm and become the majority of new car sales in many markets.

This transition will spark a major change in how the public perceives tailpipe emissions. Once someone is driving a car without a tailpipe, they no longer have to suppress their guilt of being part of the problem and can help move toward a future free from fossil fuels. This will spark changes in how society will respond to emissions legislation, idling restrictions, no emission zones, and many other aspects. 

Maybe this will encourage the auto industry to tuck their tail(pipe) between their legs.

Disclaimer Disclaimer Disclaimer 

This blog is intended for entertainment purposes and everything presented here is opinion only. I've tried to present factually accurate information, but not all sources are reliable, accurate, or may not be correctly interpreted. My analysis could be wrong, make up your own mind. I strive to be less wrong; if you see something that is not correct or a significant omission, let me know in the comments below.

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