As I was scanning the web for tobacco news, I came upon the following quote: “All truths pass through three phases. First it is ridiculed. Second it is violently opposed. Third it is accepted as self evident.” The quote can be used to describe a lot of situations, but I thought of the tobacco industry and their lack of truth and intentional cover up regarding the health effects of smoking to the public over time.
First, it is ridiculed. Studies as far back as 1938 by Johns Hopkins University showed heavy cigarette smoking shortened one’s life span. Almost no mainstream American newspaper carried the story, despite the fact it had been carried on the AP wire. Newspapers did not want to offend the tobacco advertisers who were a big source of their revenue. The Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC), originally called the Council for Tobacco Research, was set up as a “shield” for the tobacco industry in 1953 by serving as a public relations front by funding research to find answers to questions of smoking and health. It was run by a PR firm which set up a seven-man Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). Those “distinguished men from medicine, science, and education” were selected by the PR firm. One of the purposes of the TIRC was to provide grants to tobacco-friendly scientists whose studies would prove conclusive evidence did not exist between cigarettes and disease and further studies were needed.
An ad was run by American tobacco companies on January 4, 1954 and has become known as “The Frank Statement.” The purpose was to discredit early published studies between smoking and disease and to give the public a belief the tobacco industry was doing something about the problem. One of the statements claims “there is no agreement among authorities regarding what the cause of (lung disease) is. Another claims “there is no proof that cigarette smoking is one of the causes.” Even today, this false sense of security that tobacco is not a harmful product lingers in people’s minds. The industry has ridiculed the findings by having their own hired scientists disqualify the evidence.
Second, it is violently opposed. If you can’t stop the mounting evidence of truth that smoking causes disease, then fight it, and the best weapon is through advertising. An early cigarette advertisement proclaimed “…24 hours a day your doctor is “on duty”…guarding health…protecting and prolonging life. More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarettes.” Cigarettes can not be too harmful if doctors smoke them. Campaigns targeted young women to bring in new customers and encouraged them to “smoke pretty,” with decorated cigarettes and artsy decorated packages. Young, successful adults always seemed be holding a cigarette, enjoying life looking hip and “kool.” Movies made smoking look sexy. There was something sensual, alluring and glamorous about a starlet looking at you through a cloud of smoke. In movies and on television, scenes of interrogation rooms and newspaper offices had that ever present haze. Cowboys and soldiers were shown lighting up during their down time. Smoking was perceived as something glamorous and manly, and people imitated what they saw.
Third it is accepted as self evident. The tobacco corporations do not operate by the same standards of accountability and responsibility of other American corporations when they do harm. In 1994 seven CEOs of Big Tobacco swore before Congress that cigarettes and nicotine are not addictive. Yet in 2011, during its annual shareholders meeting, Philip Morris CEO Louis Camilleri stated that their product is “harmful” and “addictive.” His admission is nothing new. Internals documents showed tobacco companies all knew their products caused harm. Tobacco companies claim to ensure there is worldwide regulation of their products all the while taking countries to court to demand access to markets and to fight any regulation against them.
The tobacco industry Goliath will fight every country in the world for their right to continue to do harm with an addictive product. The Latin American country of Uruguay has some of the strictest tobacco control laws in the world and is being taken to court by tobacco company Philip Morris over claims the country is damaging the company’s commercial interests. The tobacco giant is suing once again for their right to do harm. I hope Uruguay wins over Goliath.