Tobacco's Belated Confessions

It's taken over 70 years and a lot of hedging for tobacco companies to admit the truth.

| Tue Feb. 17, 1998 3:00 AM EST

As a result of lawsuits across the country, tobacco companies have been forced to release an ever-increasing number of documents which show that they were aware of the deadly effects and addictive nature of nicotine. So how do you counter that kind of bad press? Tobacco companies are trying a bold new strategy—it's called the truth. Just last month, some tobacco company CEOs finally admitted that tobacco is addictive. Way to go, guys.

But honesty hasn't always been the best policy. The MoJo Wire takes a look at the evolution of tobacco spin:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

 
First, say your cigarettes are healthier

"It's Toasted. 'Toasting,' the most modern step in cigarette manufacturing, removes from LUCKY STRIKE harmful irritants which are present in cigarettes manufactured in the old-fashioned way. . . LUCKY STRIKE'S extra secret process. . . removes harmful corrosive acrids (pungent irritants). . .which in the old-fashioned manufacture of cigarettes cause throat irritation and coughing. . . 20,679 Physicians Say Luckies Are Less Irritating. . ."
Lucky Strike advertisement from 1926.

 
Then be sure to firmly deny any dangers

"We do not believe that cigarettes are hazardous; we don't accept that."
—Joseph Cullman, Philip Morris and chairman of the Tobacco Institute executive committee, responding to the infamous beagle study in 1971 on CBS' "Face the Nation."

 
If the science isn't going your way, avoid it

"[Regarding] our recommendations for industry research which we prepared last year. . . I have added a list of three subjects which I feel should be avoided. . . 1. Developing new tests for carcinogenicity, 2. Attempt to relate human disease to smoking, 3. Conduct experiments which require large doses of carcinogen to show additive effect of smoking."
—Robert Seligman, Philip Morris R&D vice president, to Alexander Spears, his counterpart at Lorillard, in the spring of 1980.

 
If need be, say smoking may be dangerous

"Q: Sir, my last question to you is—is very simply this. Would Philip Morris agree that a single American citizen who smoked their products for 30 or more years, a single one, has ever died of disease caused in part by smoking cigarettes?
A: I think there's a fair chance that one would have, yes. Might have.
Q: How about a thousand?
A: Might have.
Q: A hundred thousand?
A: Might have."
Geoffrey Bible, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Philip Morris Co., August 21, 1997 in a deposition in the Florida state tobacco lawsuit.

 
If all else fails try the truth, within quotes

"Tobacco is a risky product. . . and under some definitions, cigarette smoking is 'addictive.'"
Geoffrey Bible, chairman of Philip Morris Co., in a testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives on January 29, 1998.

Unfortunately, some tobacco executives seem to be behind on the learning curve. Speaking to Congress immediately after Bible, Nicholas G. Brooks, chairman of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., disagreed with his use of the word "addictive"—"I personally would not use that term."