Public versus private statements by tobacco companies

Tuesday 01 July 1997
ASH/ Press releases/

ASH Briefing on the tobacco industry





Public standpoint


In 1954, the tobacco companies in the US issued a joint public statement entitled

“A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers”. Published in 448 newspapers across the US, the statement said:


“Recent reports on experiments with mice have given wide publicity to a theory that cigarette smoking is in some way linked with lung cancer in human beings. Although conducted by doctors of professional standing, these experiments are not regarded as conclusive…”

“We accept an interest in people’s health as a basic responsibility, paramount to every other consideration in our business.”



From the mid 1950s onwards, the tobacco industry has sought to play down the scientific evidence on the health consequences of smoking and adopted a policy of spreading doubt and confusion. A massive PR campaign was mounted to attack not only the scientific data but also science itself. Thus industry statements suggested that connections between smoking and disease were not real but “merely statistical”. One of many examples comes from BAT in 1981:


“Despite a never-ending stream of research on the possible health hazards of smoking, there is no proof of a cause and effect relationship between cigarette smoking and various alleged smoking diseases.”


Dr. L Blackman, Director of R&D, BAT 1981


If pressed, tobacco executives would retreat behind the facade of not being able to comment on health issues:


“All the tobacco industry can do is adopt its neutral stance.”


C. Burell, Rothmans, 1989


Some, however, felt that the public should at least be aware of the “alleged” dangers:


“The tobacco manufacturers do not believe that the alleged dangers to health have been scientifically proven, but agree that smokers should continue to be made aware of such allegations.”


P J Hoult, President RJR Macdonald, Canada, 1987

ASH Briefing on the tobacco industry



Meanwhile, internal industry documents painted a rather different picture:


Internal documents:


“There are biologically active materials present in cigarette tobacco. These are:

a) cancer causing b) cancer promoting c) poisonous d) stimulating, pleasurable and flavorful.”


Extract from 1961 memo by Arthur D Little Inc. (research partner with Liggett & Myers)



“..evidence is building up that heavy smoking contributes to lung cancer.”


Report by C V Mace, Philip Morris scientist, 1958.



“Smoking is a habit of addiction.”

” The central fact in this subject is that in sufficient doses, tobacco condensate acts as a carcinogen when painted on the backs of mice or when injected subcutaneously into rats…”


Sir Charles Ellis, senior scientist, BAT, 1962.


“Moreover nicotine is addictive. We are, then, in the business of selling nicotine, an addictive drug effective in the release of stress mechanisms.”


Addison Yeaman, vice president and general counsel,

Brown & Williamson, 1963



“..we should adopt the attitude that the causal link between smoking and lung cancer is proven because then at least we could not be any worse off.”


Dr. Sidney Green, chief of research at BAT, 1962