Rewards and Consequences – Tobacco Versus Tylenol

Compare people’s opinions of cigarette companies with Johnson & Johnson, manufacturer of Tylenol. Because of how Johnson & Johnson handled the Tylenol tampering incident, Americans believe in what that company says – whereas no one believes a word out of the tobacco companies.


There are always multiple factors favoring any course of action.  With the plethora of examples of product defects being swept under the rug it is always refreshing to find a company which addresses issues head-on.  The tobacco industry is the opposite; a huge part of its current problems comes from the fact that no one believes a word of any study financed by anyone other than public health agencies (and often they are unreliable because of use of industry data).  Consider Philip Morris’s concealment of cigarette filter contamination issues (U.S. Newswire, 2002); the automatic assumption is that the company is lying about not knowing that its cellulose filters were defective in that they had “loose microscopic cellulose” fibers which were inhaled by smokers, or that it did not know this for the past 40 years. 


On the other hand, Johnson & Johnson largely avoids the kind of scrutiny to which tobacco companies are subject because we all feel we can trust it to do the right thing. A recent article stated that Tylenol is in 70% of all Americans’ medicine cabinets (Johnson, 2005). Any suggestion that J&J has lied to anyone is most likely to be laughed off, whereas any statement that the tobacco companies are lying about something is probably going to be taken as true. What a world of difference!




Johnson, L.A. (2005, November 1). At 50, Tylenol’s reputation still good. Associated Press/Deseret News p. A13. 


U.S. Newswire (2002, March 12). New studies of tobacco industry documents show how industry manipulates products, underscore need for FDA authority. U.S. Newswire p. 1.