Controversial Advocating…

Advocacy in public relations is one of the most important principals in the field; obviously, PR practitioners want to make a company’s target audience look favorably upon their product. The other day, I saw a commercial on television for an e-cigarette company, NJOY. Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard all of the arguments – it’s only vapor so it doesn’t harm those around you, it doesn’t contain tobacco so it’s better for you, it’s a coming-of-age product freeing people from the grips of cigarettes, etc. etc. Apparently, advertising for e-cigarettes is legal, but the ads “aren’t allowed to say that their products help people quit smoking or are less harmful than traditional cigarettes” (Esterl, 2013). Regardless of the legal standing of the commercials, it fascinated me that some PR and advertising firms were open to the idea of advocating the promotion of e-cigarettes, which still contain nicotine, the addictive part of a tobacco cigarette.

While some PR practitioners are advocating for a less-harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes, others are advocating for no cigarettes at all. There’s been a story floating around the media for a few days now about how CVS Caremark has decided to stop selling all cigarettes and other tobacco products. Claire Celsi, author of the blog Public Relations Princess, believes this to be a smart PR campaign. She praises CVS’s decision, saying, “as a PR practitioner, I see the move for what it is – a smart business decision that will pay dividends into the future” (2014). The PR professionals behind CVS Caremark recognize that the company is known for being a health and wellness store, and it’s all about catering to their target audience.

According to an article about advocacy in PR written by Ruth Edgett of Syracuse University, in order “for public relations to be effective in highly controversial environments, the best method of communication is a give and take situation in which organizations display openness, honesty, sincerity, and willingness to change course if necessary” (2002). So, whether PR professionals are advocating for or against a controversial product, it’s important that the audience is being told honest, and unbiased, information. And, whether you believe CVS or NJOY is making the right decision, you can’t deny that both companies are receiving a ton of attention…


Celsi, Clare (2014, February 5). The CVS Cigarette Decision – Good PR Move and Financially Smart, Too. Public Relations Princess. Retrieved from

Edgett, Ruth (2002). Toward an Ethical Framework for Advocacy in Public Relations. Journal of Public Relations Research. Retrieved from

Esterl, Mike (2013, December 26). Holy Smokes: E-Cigarette Ads Debut on TV. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from


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