The Tobacco Wars


1969 Give an inch, gain a decade

The Senate moves to ban cigarette advertising on TV and place health warnings in other ads. Philip Morris President Joseph Cullman sees the silver lining in the dark cloud over the industry’s head: Voluntarily agreeing to remove tobacco TV advertising would effectively end competition from new companies because, without TV, the introduction of new brands would prove prohibitively expensive. In the subsequent bargain Cullman cuts with Congress, specific references to cancer or other diseases are removed from warning label language, and industry lawyers quietly insert a “pre-emption” section in the law, essentially preventing states from awarding any damages in tobacco liability lawsuits. This section, along with package warning labels, becomes the companies’ key defense against liability lawsuits brought by smokers over the next 20 years.

1970 Dr. Auerbach’s beagles are turned on him

On February 6, 1970, a front-page New York Times article reports a breakthrough that panics tobacco apologists: “12 Dogs Develop Lung Cancer in Group of 86 Taught to Smoke.” The study, by Dr. Oscar Auerbach and Cuyler Hammond, proves that exposure to cigarette smoke produces malignant tumors in large animals. The American Cancer Society, which funded the study, claims the findings “effectively refute” the contention that there is no proven link between cigarettes and cancer. Every TV network news show leads with the story of the smoking beagles. Caught off guard, The Tobacco Institute initially appeals to offended animal lovers and then claims the findings are unrelated to human smokers.

The New England Journal, which carried earlier smoking studies by Auerbach and Hammond, has a policy of accepting only “unpublicized results,” and the beagle study has already been disclosed at a press conference. The Journal’s editor returns the paper, saying the decision to reject it on procedural–not substantive–grounds has been “agonizing.”

Though the paper is later published elsewhere, cigarette companies employ this technical rejection in a broad media campaign to discredit the study and its authors, calling it the “beagles fiasco.”

Kentucky Congressman Tim Lee Carter, a champion of the tobacco industry, claims the Journal “had rejected the [beagles] research papers outright.” The president of The Tobacco Institute declares the study “may be one of the great scientific hoaxes of our time.”

In early 1971, Philip Morris head Joseph Cullman tries to bury the beagles study for good. As a guest on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” he falsely claims that criticism has forced the researchers to back off their central finding that the beagles got lung cancer from smoking cigarettes. Cullman also states, “We do not believe that cigarettes are hazardous; we don’t accept that.” And when asked about another recent study, which found that smoking mothers gave birth to smaller babies, Cullman remarks, “Some women would prefer having smaller babies.”

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