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The Deception of the Tobacco Industry

The individual act of cigarette smoking offers no benefits

to a person in any way. Its effects on health have been

proven to cause any one of a variety of fatal diseases

including lung cancer and heart diseases. Despite this

reality, about 46 million adult men and women in the United

States smoke cigarettes regularly. Through subliminal

advertisements and propaganda, irrational desires are

cleverly instilled in the minds of millions by callous

cigarette companies; the targeted minds are mostly those of

children. These selfish companies are clearly unconcerned

about the well-being of humanity, and are more concerned

about their profits than their clients health. Despite

overwhelming scientific evidence that their products kill

420,000 American smokers and 53,000 non-smokers each year,

the tobacco industry continues to sell its life-threatening

products, unhindered by any significant government

regulation (Glantz xvii). This is achieved (by the

industry) through strategically planned legal, political,

and public relations tactics which are contrived in order

to mislead the public and take the responsibility for

causing death and disease away from the companies. Along

with help from the government, the tobacco industry relies

on the following in order to preserve its success: (1) the

feigned controversy created by the industry on the

effects of smoking, (2) the addictive properties of

tobacco, and (3) marketing their product by associating it

with misleading images.

Responses to the Health Effects of Cigarettes

Americans have been smoking tobacco since before

Columbus set sail in 1492. The habit has been practiced in

areas of civilization for 500 years (Kluger xviii). Tobacco

is a part of American history; it was grown by George

Washington and engraved on the pillars inside the Capitol

building by Thomas Jefferson (Taylor 7).

Cigarettes became better popularized during the

First World War and were even more successful during the

Second. Tobacco smoking had always been suspected to be an

unhealthy habit, but it was not until the twentieth century

that connections between smoking and disease became more

evident. In 1930 in the United States, 3,000 people died

from lung cancer. By 1962, that number had increased to

41,000, just as the number of cigarette smokers had

increased between those years (Taylor 3). Over the first

half of the century, the number of cancers in the smoking

population went up in direct proportion to the number of

cigarettes smoked per day (Hilts 3).

In 1962, the concern about smoking and health grew

large enough for something official to be done. At

President John F. Kennedy s request, the Surgeon General,

Luther Terry, had assembled a collection of the most

distinguished scientists and doctors who had no public

opinion on the issue (Hilts 30). After two years of

research and experimentation, the Surgeon General released

his report on smoking and health. It concluded: Cigarette

smoking is causally related to lung cancer in men; the

magnitude of the effect of cigarette smoking far outweighs

all other factors (qtd. in Glantz et al. 18). Furthermore,

the report linked smoking to chronic bronchitis, coronary

artery disease, cancer of the larynx, and cancer of the

urinary bladder in men (Glantz et al. 18).

The public knowledge about nicotine at that time,

however, was not as extensive as that on disease. The

report stated that The tobacco habit should be

characterized as an habituation rather than an addiction.

It was not until 24 years later (1988) that the Surgeon

General (C. Everett Koop) concluded that Cigarettes and

other forms of tobacco are addicting, that Nicotine is

the drug in tobacco that causes the addiction, and that

The pharmacologic and behavioral processes that determine

tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine

addiction to drugs such as heroin and cocaine (qtd. in

Glantz et al. 15).

The first time the health dangers of smoking were

formally brought to the American public s attention was in

December, 1953. Experiments done by Drs. Ernst Wynder and

Evarts Graham and their colleagues at the Sloan Kettering

Institute in New York demonstrated that a large percent (by

experimental standards) of mice developed cancerous tumors

when their skins were painted with condensed tobacco smoke,

or tar (Hilts 4). This was considered by many as adequate

verification that smoke would do the same to human lungs

since they, too, are made of skin.

The response in the U.S. was immediate: in less

than two years, consumption dropped to 384 billion

cigarettes per year – down from 416 billion in 1952 (Hilts

2). However, these mouse skin-painting experiments had

their most tremendous effect on the tobacco companies

themselves. On December 15, 1953, for the first time in

history, the head executives of the leading tobacco

companies in the industry met in order to devise an

emergency plan. The leaders of the market were the same

then as they are today: Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown

and Williamson, American Tobacco, U.S. Tobacco, and Benson

and Hedges (Hilts 4). The industry s main concern in

response to the medical evidence was to make sure that

consumers carried on smoking (Taylor 11).

The minutes of the meeting show that salesmen in

the industry [were] frantically alarmed and that the

decline in tobacco stocks on the market ha[d] caused

grave concern . . . (qtd. in Hilts 5). John Hill of

the public relations firm of Hill and Knowlton suggested

that the industry initiate a public counter-attack against

the scientists and that the companies make a public

statement saying that they are sincerely concerned with the

public welfare. They established a joint organization

funded by all the companies to influence the issues of

smoking and health: the Tobacco Industry Research Committee

(TIRC) (Hilts 5-6).

The objective of TIRC was to convince the public

that there was a controversy as to whether smoking is

dangerous (Glantz et al.26). They were to spend large

amounts of money to prevent scientists and public health

officials from warning people of the hazards of cigarette

smoking. TIRC did not begin with any doctors or scientists,

but with 38 public relations experts along with associated

advertising executives and other contractors – all hired by

the tobacco companies (Hilts 6-8). Although there are many

documents to prove this, the industry claimed that TIRC was

an independant organization that would determine the truth

about the health effects of smoking (Glantz et al.26).

The industry needed to reassure smokers (Taylor

12). Refusing to accept the medical evidence linking

cigarettes to lung cancer and addiction created doubt in

the public mind and allowed smokers to choose sides on

the issue. Even today, the tobacco industry s controversy

causes the confusion in the public mind. Philip J. Hilts, a

Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, wrote that

the confusion intentionally produced by the industry can

be measured in units of misperception.

In the last analysis, for the public. . . When asked how

many people smoke, we guess about twice as many as actually

do. When asked to rate the top ten health priorities for

the countries, we guess that quitting smoking should take

tenth place, behind an array of real and imagined hazards,

including the installation of smoke detectors, even though

while fires in the home cause about 6,000 deaths annually,

smoking causes something over 400,000. (19-20)

One of the primary arguments of the tobacco industry

against medical evidence proving that smoking causes cancer

has been that the evidence is merely statistical. This

ignorant statement ignores the fact that the ground of all

reason in science has always been based on statistics.

Cigarette company executives have been trained by public

relations experts and lawyers to say that the causation of

lung cancer through cigarettes has not been proven in the

sense that scientists cannot demonstrate the exact

mechanism that smoke from a given cigarette on a given day

produced the tumor in the smoker s lung. This form of

proof, however, is not requisite in the scientific world,

and it is hypocritical of tobacco companies to demand this

level of proof. The companies themselves use statistics for

the most important company decisions. For example, how and

where to market brands and what amount of flavoring to put

in certain brands. The whole industry uses statistics in

all areas with their business; none of it meets their

created standard of proof. Thus the tobacco companies

attack is on science itself, or rather, on the idea that we

can use science to make decisions (Hilts 18-19).

The industry s stated disagreement with the

evidence also attributed to their argument against

government regulation of their products, and helped prevent

lawsuits against tobacco companies. In addition to their

public disagreement, companies argue that smoking is a

matter of individual choice, blaming their customers for

the diseases they acquire through using addictive tobacco

products. Finally, the industry s claims are made to appear

sincere by their pronounced willingness to support health-

related research (Glantz et al. 3).

TIRC promised to publicize industry-funded work,

even if it revealed that there were cancer-causing agents

in cigarettes. However, memos show that public relations

executives and lawyers would screen the scientist s report

before authorizing their release, even to the Surgeon

General. When reports would turn up with conclusions that

may have been damaging to the tobacco industry, TIRC would

not make them public (Hilts 10-11). Much of the work funded

by TIRC did not even have anything to do with tobacco and

health. In a survey of those who received grants, 80

percent of the scientists said that none of their research

had ever examined smoking s health effects. Of the 20

percent whose work was in that area, over 90 percent agreed

that smoking causes lung cancer and is addictive (Hilts 15).

As the TIRC did all of this to stall for time, the

companies themselves were doing their own research behind

closed curtains – without each company knowing what the

others were doing. Documents show not only that the

experiments done were good work, but that they were

advanced far beyond the work of the top university

scientists of the time (Hilts 11). Within the company labs,

researchers found not one, but 15 compounds which caused

cancer and another 24 which encouraged cancer growth (21).

Characteristically of the tobacco industry, this important

information which could have saved millions of lives was

suppressed from the Surgeon General and, more importantly,

from the public.

Through the independent research conducted in the

company labs, many companies had developed a sophisticated

understanding of nicotine and learned that it was addictive

by the early 1960 s – a quarter of a century before the

Surgeon General concluded just that. An essay written in

1963 by scientists at Battelle (a European lab hired to

work for British American Tobacco and sister companies) and

distributed to the senior executives of British American

Tobacco and Brown & Williamson read as follows:

Chronic intake of nicotine tends to restore the normal

physiological functioning of the endocrine system, so that

ever-increasing dose levels of nicotine are necessary to

maintain the desired action . . . This unconscious desire

explains the addiction of the individual to nicotine. (qtd.

in Glantz et al. 15)

This essay was obviously not submitted to the Surgeon

General, whose report published the next year presumed that

The tobacco habit should be characterized as an

habituation rather than an addiction (qtd. in Glantz et

al. 15). Despite all of the work by the company labs that

proved how nicotine is addictive, tobacco executives have

publicly denied that nicotine is addictive even to this day.

What the companies hoped to achieve in their labs

was to identify the cancer-causing agents in tobacco and

then remove them and, as a result, develop a safe



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