Marlboro maker had strategy to buy up British scientists to muddy waters on passive smoking

Tuesday 14 April 1998

ASH/ Press releases/


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Press releaseEmbargo 00:01 19 April 1998 ASH
Action on Smoking
and Health


Marlboro maker had strategy to buy up British scientists to muddy the water on passivesmoking

A document released by ASH today, reveals that the world’s largest cigarettemultinational, Philip Morris – the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, had a deliberatestrategy of paying British scientists to muddy the water on passive smoking. Thescientists would operate under the direction of Philip Morris and their findings would befiltered by lawyers. The 1988 document states that Philip Morris was spending “vastsums of money” to “keep the controversy alive”. The document gives ashortlist of 18 British scientists to be approached.

The document is BAT’s internal memo by Dr. Sharon Boyse of a meeting of the UKtobacco industry including BAT, Imperial Tobacco, Rothmans and Gallaher, at which PhilipMorris presented its strategy on passive smoking. Key quotes from the document:

“They [Philip Morris] are proposing, in key countries, to set up a team of scientists organised by one national co-ordinating scientist and American lawyers, to review scientific literature or carry out work on ETS [Environmental Tobacco Smoke] to keep the controversy alive.” (p.1)

“They are spending vast sums of money to do so, and on the European front, the lawyers Covington and Burling, lawyers for the Tobacco Institute in the USA are proposing to set up a London office to from March 1988 to co-ordinate these activities.” (p.1)

“Their major targets are: UK, France, Italy, Switzerland and Scandinavia (Sweden). In all of these countries Philip Morris have already began to identify and talk to suitable scientists.” (p.3)

“The scientists are then contacted by these co-ordinators or by the lawyers and asked if they are interested in the problems of Indoor Air Quality: tobacco is not mentioned at this stage” (p.3).

“Philip Morris then expect the group of scientists to operate within the confines of decisions taken by PM scientists to determine the general direction of research, which apparently would then be ‘filtered’ by lawyers to eliminate areas of sensitivity. (p.3)

“Their idea is that the group of scientists should be able to produce research or stimulate controversy in such a way that public affairs people in the relevant countries would be able to make use of, or market the information.” (p.4)

“It must be appreciated that Philip Morris are putting vast amounts of funding into these projects: not only in directly funding large numbers of research projects all over the world, but in attempting to co-ordinate and pay so many scientists on an international basis to keep the controversy alive. It is generally felt that this kind of activity is already giving them a marketing and public affair advantage, especially in countries in which, until recently, they have played a rather low profile.” (p.6)

The document also mentions:

“The Centre for Indoor Air Research that Philip Morris, RJR and Lorillard have setup in the US” (p.2)

…though they say they are not sure this strategy would necessarily be practicaloutside the US.

Also present at the meeting was a Dr. GB Leslie of a commercial consultants, BioassayLtd. The year after this meeting in London, Dr Leslie had helped form the”International Association for Indoor Air Quality” and became its President in1992. Eight of the scientists short-listed in the document are on the editorial board ofthe Association’s journal “Indoor Environment”.

There have been several recent attempts to keep the controversy alive on passivesmoking recently –

  • a 1996 Philip Morris advertising campaign comparing passive smoking to eating biscuits – the ASA upheld complaints about this;
  • deliberate misrepresentation of a WHO study on passive smoking in March 1998;
  • a study published by the European Science and Environment Forum in March 1998 criticising the analysis underpinning the Government’s Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health findings on passive smoking.
  • Tobacco industry studies on passive smoking by the Tobacco Manufacturers Association and a recently formed ‘European Working Group’.

“Passive smoking is so sensitive to the tobacco industry because when others areharmed also those freedom to smoke arguments fall apart” said Clive Bates, Directorof ASH.

“The document reveals a disgraceful and systematic attempt to pervert scientificdebate, put scientists under the control of lawyers and manipulate the media andpoliticians. A lot of what appears to be controversy has tobacco industry fingerprints allover it.” said Bates.

“It is depressing to find there are scientific soldiers of fortune prepared toaccept money to stir up controversy because it suits a particular commercial interest.It’s an sleazy abuse of academic credentials which people expect to be a genuine signof independence.” said Bates.


  1. A similar approach has been used to create controversy in other areas of the tobacco debate (and in other fields where science could challenge commercial interests) – including around tobacco advertising. This week, on April 21st a Professor Hugh High will visit the UK at the invitation of the Institute of Economic Affairs to present new research on tobacco advertising – this coincides with crucial European Parliament debate on tobacco advertising and will be supportive of the tobacco industry line. Prof. High is based in Cape Town and has been a consultant to the Tobacco Institute of South Africa. The Institute of Economic Affairs is linked to the European Science and Environment Forum that recently published research on passive smoking that created a controversy. The ESEF and IEA were both involved in creating controversy about global warming.
  2. There are some 2,000 documents relating to the activities of the lawyers Covington and Burling that have yet to be released to the public in US litigation. These documents are likely to reveal the more about this operation.





Contact Clive Bates, Director 0171 224 0743 or 0181 800 1336 (hm), 0468 791237 (mbl) after 7-00am 8/3
Amanda Sandford, Communications Director 0171 224 0743 or 0181 257 3501 (hm)

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