Lies, All Lies 101.1 – The tobacco industry’s big lie

The Big Lie of the tobacco industry about the harmful effects of smoking

This statement sums up the big lie:

“Analysis of public statements issued by the tobacco industry sources over the past five decades [before 1999] shows that the [tobacco] companies maintained the stance that smoking had not been proven to be injurious to health through 1999. The public statements of the tobacco industry are in sharp contrast to the private views expressed by many of their own scientists. The tobacco documents reveal that many scientists within the tobacco industry acknowledged as early as the 1950s that cigarette smoking was unsafe.

“The sincerity of the industry’s promise to support research to find out if smoking was harmful to health and to disclose information about the health effects of smoking can also be questioned based upon the industry’s own documents which reveal: (1) scepticism about the scientific value of the smoking and health research program established by the industry; and (2) evidence that research findings implicating smoking as a health problem were often not published or disclosed outside the industry. Industry documents also show that the companies knew that their own customers were misinformed about smoking and health issues.

(K M Cummings, C P Morley, A Hyland, Tobacco Control, Department of Cancer Prevention, Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Elm and Carlton Streets, Buffalo, New York 14263, USA, 2002)

Companies in the tobacco industry have not only denied claims of smoking being injurious to health, they focus on proving the opposite. Helmut Wakeham, Head of Research and Development of Philip Morris, stated:

“Let’s face it. We are interested in evidence which we believe denies the allegations that cigarette smoking causes disease.” (Philip Morris, 1970)

In March 1999, a Mayo Clinic report on addressing the worldwide tobacco epidemic through effective, evidence-based treatment was released by the World Health Organization, at a meeting of experts from developed and developing countries at the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Centre in Rochester, Minnesota, USA.

The objective of this meeting was to prepare a statement on the treatment of tobacco dependence based upon the best available scientific information at that time. The report pointed out the compelling advertising of the tobacco industry as a factor contributing to people smoking. At that time, of course, tobacco advertising did not come with a health warning:

The Marlboro Man
The Marlboro Man

“Motivation to quit must be stronger than incentives for continuing to use tobacco. For many smokers, the incentive to smoke is driven by media depictions and by cultural and societal acceptance of tobacco use. By the time they are only a few years old, many children throughout the world can identify tobacco advertising icons (e.g. Emri et al., 1998; Fischer et al., 1991). Public education campaigns and counter-advertising face a substantial obstacle in overcoming the power of years of effective advertising and marketing of tobacco products. The Marlboro Man was named brand image of the century in 1999 by Advertising age magazine, whose editors expressed their ambivalence at selecting a symbol that had established Marlboro as the best-selling cigarette in the world. They acknowledged, “More than any other issue, the ethics of tobacco advertising – morally and legally – have divided the advertising industry.” (Advertising Age, 1999).

“They noted that the Marlboro Man’s image has so much “clout” that no matter how minimal the imagery becomes, “reduced on occasion to little more than a saddle and a splash of red”, the image is still evocative of “a mythical Marlboro country, of a mythical American cowboy and of the No. 1 brand of cigarettes that gave that cowboy real lung cancer”. No counter-advertising image has approached the success of the Marlboro Man, or even of his closest competitors in the contest for icon of the century – Ronald McDonald, The Green Giant, Betty Crocker, and the Energizer Bunny.

“Success in counter-advertising not only requires powerful images and an extensive advertising budget, but also depends on several factors that are difficult to achieve in many political climates: adequate, long-term funding; a campaign free from political interference; a broad-based focus not targeted exclusively at children; and a campaign that complements other tobacco control activities, such as support for indoor smoking restrictions.” (WHO, Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI), 1998).

Well, it’s a long and torrid tale of a Big Lie being Busted. Read more here in a document from the WHO:

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