Smoke and Mirrors: How Philip Morris concealed the truth about secondhand smoke

Wednesday 10 November 2004

ASH news release: Embargo: 00:01 Thursday 11th November 2004
More damning evidence released today reveals how the world’s biggest tobacco company set up a special research unit to investigate the health impact of active and passive smoking but concealed the findings.[1] The documents also show how the disgraced Swedish professor Ragnar Rylander was hired by Philip Morris to act as a co-ordinator to filter the reports before transmitting them to the US.[2]

Fearful that its own research could be used against the company in lawsuits, Philip Morris set up a research establishment in Germany where experiments were conducted in secret. Philip Morris acquired the facility – the Institut für Industrielle und Bioligische Forschung GmbH (INBIFO) in 1970. A PM Vice-President Helmut Wakeham recommended the purchase of the laboratory “as this is a locale where we might do some of the things which we are reluctant to do in this country” [ie the US]. The sort of things he was referring to can be inferred from company memos which state that Philip Morris executives were “interested in evidence which we believe denies the allegation that cigarette smoking causes disease” .

Much of the research conducted in the 1980s at INBIFO was on the health impact of secondhand smoke. From the early stages, the studies showed the highly toxic nature of cigarette smoke, particularly the high concentration of poisons in sidestream smoke. [3] However, none of these studies were published. Instead, published studies from INBIFO focussed on factors other than tobacco that might help explain the causes of diseases such as lung cancer. Other studies cast doubt on the value of cotinine or other biological markets as measures of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

Deborah Arnott, Director of the health campaigning charity ASH, said:

“The documents released today provide more evidence of the underhand behaviour of the tobacco industry and that companies like Philip Morris simply cannot be trusted. How can a company that ignores its own research findings be taken seriously? In the on-going debate about smoking in workplaces, it is important that policy-makers are aware of the concealment policy of the tobacco lobby whose own research showed the dangers of secondhand smoke but was covered up to protect the industry.”



Notes and links:

[1] Diethelm PA, Rielle JC and McKee, M. The whole truth and nothing but the truth? The research that Philip Morris did not want you to see. Lancet online:

[2] Ragnar Rylander sued two tobacco control activists for defamation when they (correctly) accused him of being in the pockets of the tobacco industry. After a long-running legal battle, the health campaigners were eventually cleared of all charges. For further details of this case see our press release.

[3] One animal study which examined the differences between exposure to mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke concluded:“ All rats showed general signs of exhaustion after the end of daily exposure. In contrast to the rats of the mainstream group, which recovered by the next morning, the rats of the sidestream groups continued to show shaggy fur and some pronounced respiratory problems characterized by whistling and rattling sounds.” The report went on: “If one extrapolates from the experience of previous mainstream inhalation studies, the mainstream TPM [total particulate matter] concentration of this study would have to be increased by a factor of 3 to produce similar strong reactions that seen with sidestream exposure in this study.”

Contact: Deborah Arnott 020 7739 5902 (w) 079 7693 5987 (m) ISDN available