Are you good at sensing when people are dishonest? Even just the little white lies that aren’t really that important? If not, you might be surprised to learn that 3 in 5 people lie at least once during a typical 10-minute conversation.

But what about large corporations? Have you ever tried to keep track of how many times businesses, organizations, and politicians have lied about their actions? Some of the biggest industries in the country, like tobacco, have actually advertised so many mistruths that a federal judge ruled in 2006 that they weren’t legally allowed to lie any more. By willfully  refuting the deadly effects of smoking since the 1950’s, big tobacco knowingly mislead the American people about the health risks associated with using it’s product for decades.

With American trust in major institutions declining, we surveyed 500 Americans about the industries they find most and least trustworthy. From science and medicine to big oil and the pharmaceutical industry, we asked them to rank their trust and how ethical they found certain hypothetical scenarios. Continue reading to see what we learned.

Building (and Eroding) Trust

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Humans may be naturally trusting, but recent studies have found American trust in nearly all corporate, government, and media institutions has declined over the past few years. Still, our survey found if there’s one thing we’re inclined to trust today – it’s science.

By nature, science is an industry based on transparent processes that produce results and facts (even if we aren’t always disposed to agree with those results), which breeds a sense of trust among people. Technology today is bringing us together in new ways and is subsequently having a tremendous impact on the way we build trust around the country.

Respondents also ranked the military, education system, and arts and entertainment among the top trusted fields.

When it came to distrust, no industry scored higher among Americans than oil and petroleum. From long-standing controversies to the impact they’ve had on the environment, experts say oil companies have established a reputation for corruption that may be hard to undo. People also were hesitant to trust industries like marketing and advertising, finance and insurance, and government and public administration.

Given that some industries, like the tobacco industry, spend around 25 million dollars a day to market their products, sometimes even to children that don’t fully understand the health effect of their habit, it’s no wonder why! In some ways however, their dishonesty may go unnoticed by a majority of the public. While not voted among the least trustworthy corporations by those we surveyed, in 2015, a federal court ruled that the tobacco companies would be required to admit their products were deliberately designed to be addictive – but not that they’d lied about it. Had the ruling gone another way, these same companies would have been required to air court-ordered advertisements that publicly branded them as liars.

Exploring the gray areas

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Ethics in business is more important than just the trust corporations build with their shareholders or even their employees. It impacts the trust they build with customers and the community, directly affecting their ability to succeed and be profitable.

We next asked participants to rank hypothetical situations by how ethical they were. The least morally ambiguous of these problematic concerns? A theoretical example involving the pharmaceutical industry. While people said this was the least ethical behavior they could imagine, it may not be far off from reality. The pharmaceutical industry has long been under scrutiny for the cost of life-saving medication in contrast to the amount of money it costs to produce these drugs – even causing a rift between doctors and big pharmaceutical corporations.

Other hypothetical situations that earned low marks for their ethical trustworthiness included instances of companies paying to remove negative social media reviews and cigarette companies using animated advertising in youth-centered mediums to promote their products (which they used to do). Other historical examples of deceptive marketing by the tobacco industry include promoting cigarettes as an appetite suppressant to women, as physician approved, or even with coupons to help purchase common household goods.

navigating moral ambiguity

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While many Americans expressed a distrust of industries that included government and politicians, many weren’t concerned with retired politicians working for companies whose regulations they oversaw while in office. Called a revolving door, many feel that the high salaries offered are a form of back payment for services rendered. This employment dynamic need not be limited to regulations in the cigarette industry, but dozens of other industries as well.

The employment of former government employees as advisors and lobbyists has recently been such a concern for vocal critics that it caused President Trump to impose certain limits (including some lifetime bans) on the relationships politicians are allowed to have with outside organizations after their time in government office has ended.

Americans also weren’t concerned with companies hiring outside organizations to monitor employees’ social media activity. They also saw no ethical concern with corporations contributing money to political campaigns to support candidates who opposed additional regulations on their industries.

In a similar real-life example, Republican lawmakers responsible for drafting the newest iteration of President Trump’s health care referendum have been criticized for accepting thousands of dollars in contributions from lobbies that could benefit from the bill they’re attempting to pass.

BUILDING trust 101

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So how are most Americans building trust with the companies and businesses around them? A majority of people said consumer reviews were their largest indicator of trust. However, consumer reviews don’t only matter to consumers – they also matter to businesses of virtually every size.

Sites that host these reviews earn tremendous web traffic, and the number of reviews a company gets also affects how easily searchable they are online. In 2015, Yelp – one of the biggest online consumer review sites in the country – was worth more than $3.5 billion. Currently, TripAdvisor is worth $6.5 billion dollars.

Our survey found certification labels were just as important in building trust as consumer reviews, and that endorsements, government reports, and corporate social media accounts also influenced the way Americans felt about companies and businesses in their communities. Knowing exactly who to trust can be difficult, sometimes. For instance whereas in the UK e-cigs are promoted as a health alternative, in the U.S., where much tobacco is grown, there is no similar endorsement from the government.

the need for oversight

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If a cereal company knows its most popular product is loaded with sugar, and research has proven how bad it may be for adolescent children, do you expect the business to regulate the amount of sugar it puts in its products or advise that eating it can be bad for you?

When it comes to the food industry, the answer may be yes (to a certain extent), but not every industry is as keen on self-regulation. Major corporations like Volkswagen and even big tobacco brands have either failed to self-regulate entirely or have fallen short on their promises to do so. While you might expect that the tobacco industry would have learned its lesson on marketing to teens and young people considering what they (and we) know about the addictive properties of cigarettes, research indicates that these companies have now turned their efforts towards young people in some of the poorest countries around the world. Unlike more developed nations, these countries often don’t have the resources to impose similar sanctions and regulations on these advertising practices.     

A majority of Americans were either only slightly or moderately trusting of companies to self-regulate their business practices. Less than 10 percent of those surveyed (except for participants 24 and younger) indicated “very much” trusting of companies to regulate their actions and policies to standards they see as moral. Indeed, as some companies behavior is any indicator, we can see that often times shareholders and the bottom line gets prioritized over what’s been established as right.

political trust

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Republicans were more inclined to believe companies and businesses could regulate themselves compared to Democrats and Independents.

While around 1 in 4 Democrats and Independents said they didn’t trust companies at all to self-regulate, less that 1 in 10 Republicans were as critical. Nearly half of Republicans indicated slightly trusting of businesses to self-regulate, while almost 10 percent said they “very much” trusted corporations could moderate themselves without additional oversight. Independent voters were the least likely to extend that level of confidence.

the health cost of people's decisions

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While the effects and impacts of smoking may have been a point of debate in the past, there’s no denying now the toxic consequences of smoking cigarettes of tobacco mixed with the chemicals they’re sometimes laced with today. Those effects even appear on every box of cigarettes sold in the U.S., and cigarettes sold in other countries may contain graphic imagery to make a bold statement.

However, possibly nothing illuminates the cost of smoking quite as strongly as the number of Americans who die every year from the effects of cigarettes. In the U.S., more people die annually from smoking and smoking-related complications than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol consumption, car accidents, and firearm-related incidents combined. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 deaths across the country is attributed to cigarette smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These numbers have only climbed since 1999. While there were just over 257,000 cigarette-related deaths in the U.S. from 1999 to 2015, that number rose to more than 313,000 as of 2015. The use of opioid drugs has recently been labeled a “crisis” in America for the number of lives these drugs claim each year, and their crippling addictive properties. In 2015, however, the number of opioid-related deaths in the U.S. represented just over 10 percent of the number of lives lost to cigarette smoking.

a brand name you can trust

Americans are sometimes hesitant to extend trust to major businesses and corporations – especially when that trust has already been broken, like with the oil industry. The tobacco industry isn’t much different. For decades, they denied the addictive nature of their products, the controversy of their advertising campaigns, and the deadly impact smoking has on people’s health. These actions have broken the trust of millions of Americans and the government committees who oversee their actions.

At Halo, we follow strict guidelines, policies, and procedures in all of our manufacturing processes. From electronic cigarettes to tank systems and batteries, all of our products are designed and produced in the United States. We even have our own internal rewards program to help make getting the best deal on our most popular flavors and products even sweeter. Our higher standards ensure you’re getting the best products on the market. Visit us online at HaloCigs.com to learn more.

METHODOLOGY

For this project we researched the history of business practices of companies in the United States that lead to public controversy and legal cases. We then 500 Americans about their feelings toward corporate ethics.

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