Big mouth


The companies publicly denied that their product was addictive. But in-house the story was quite different.

‘Nicotine is addictive. We are, then, in the business of selling nicotine – an addictive drug effective in the release of stress mechanisms.'

(Brown & Williamson, a US subsidiary of British American Tobacco, 1963)

‘Monkeys can be trained to inject themselves with nicotine for its own sake, just as they will inject other dependence-producing drugs, eg, opiates, caffeine, amphetamine, cocaine. … The absorption of nicotine through the lungs is as quick as a junkie's ‘fix'.'

(Brown & Williamson, 1973)

More recently they have been unable to ignore the evidence. Still, using the a-word in public is difficult.

‘The definition of addiction is wide and varied. People are addicted to the Internet. Others are addicted to shopping, sex, tea and coffee. The line I would take is that tobacco isn't addictive but habit-forming.'

(Spokesperson of the Tobacco Marketing Association, 1998)

Secondhand smoke

‘What the smoker does to himself [sic] may be his business, but what the smoker does to the non-smoker is quite a different matter... This we see as the most dangerous development yet to the viability of the tobacco industry...'

(US Tobacco Institute, 1978)

In the 1990s, Philip Morris spent millions of dollars on a campaign to sabotage a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer on the dangers of environmental tobacco smoke. Their strategy was as follows:

‘1. Delay the progress and/or release of the study; 2. Affect the wording of its conclusions and official statement of results; 3. Neutralize possible negative results of the study, particularly as a regulatory tool; 4. Counteract the potential impact of the study on governmental policy, public opinion, and actions by private employers and proprietors.'

The industry-funded Tobacco Institute measured the dollars-and-cents impact of smoking legislation on cigarette consumption between 1961 and 1982. The result?

‘Those who say they work under restrictions smoked about one-and-one quarter fewer cigarettes each day than those who don't... That one-and-onequarter per day cigarette reduction then, means nearly 7 billion fewer cigarettes smoked each year because of workplace smoking restrictions. That's 350 million packs of cigarettes. At a dollar a pack, even the lightest of workplace smoking restrictions is costing this industry 233 million dollars a year in revenue.'

Young people

Tobacco companies deny targeting young people. But they reach out to youngsters by creating an image of rebelliousness around their brands.

‘The first cigarette is a noxious experience to the novitiate. To account for the fact that the beginning smoker will tolerate the unpleasantness, we must invoke a psychological motive. Smoking a cigarette for the beginner is a symbolic act. I am no longer my mother's child, I'm tough, I am an adventurer, I'm not a square... As the force from the psychological symbolism subsides, the pharmacological effect takes over to sustain the habit.'

(Philip Morris, 1969)

Terence Sullivan, a sales representative for RJ Reynolds came clean in 1990:

‘We were targeting kids, and I said at the time it was unethical and maybe illegal, but I was told it was just company policy.’

When Sullivan asked whether the young people being targeted were junior high school kids or younger, this is the answer he received:

‘They got lips? We want them.’

An internal Reynolds paper from 1973 expressed frustration at not being able to advertise directly to young smokers:

‘It should be said that we are presently, and I believe unfairly, constrained from directly promoting cigarettes to the youth market. If our company is to survive and prosper, over the long term we must get our share of the youth market... Thus we need brands designed to be particularly attractive to the young smoker, while ideally at the same time appealing to all smokers.’

With such revelations out in the open, the companies have become more cautious and are leaving fewer tracks behind. Many executives refuse to discuss any tricky issues publicly, except when forced to in courts of law. Silence must be golden, after all.

This selection of quotes is a small taster from an excellent compilation called ‘Trust us: We're the tobacco industry' put together by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Action on Smoking and Health and available in its entirety at

New Internationalist issue 369 magazine cover This article is from the July 2004 issue of New Internationalist.
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