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Over the last half century, the tobacco industry has earned billions of dollars in profits by selling a deadly and addictive product while denying its harmfulness. As criticism of the industry has accelerated in recent years, and calls for product regulation have grown, tobacco companies have defended themselves by saying they are now “responsible” corporations that aim to communicate honestly about their products.
A test of whether the industry has reformed is the truthfulness of company statements made under penalty of sanction in a court of law. At the request of Rep. Henry A Waxman, this report examines recently submitted filings by the five largest cigarette manufacturers in the civil suit brought by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). The report assesses the truthfulness of company positions on three critical health issues: (1) the health effects of smoking; (2) the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke; and (3) the addictiveness of nicotine. The report also examines three companies’ statements about previously controversial issues: Philip Morris’s statements on control of nicotine, RJ Reynolds’s statements on marketing to children, and British American Tobacco’s statements on document destruction.
The report finds that when forced to take legally binding positions, the tobacco industry still does not accept scientific consensus about the harms of their products. Despite overwhelming agreement among experts that cigarettes cause disease in smokers, that environmental tobacco smoke causes disease in nonsmokers, and that nicotine is addictive, the report finds:
Four of five major tobacco companies still question whether smoking causes disease—That smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other diseases is universally accepted by medical and scientific authorities. Yet Lorillard, British American Tobacco, and Brown & Williamson still qualified their statements on causation, and RJ Reynolds acknowledged only that smoking “may contribute to causing . . .diseases in …
↵* On its website, Philip Morris states that public health officials “have concluded that secondhand smoke . . .causes or increases the risk of diseases” and provides links to websites setting out the views of the public health officials. Philip Morris USA, Health issues and secondhand smoke (online at http://www.philipmorrisusa.com, file: Tobacco Issues). Omitted from the website statement on environmental tobacco smoke is the fact that, as can be seen from the court filings, Philip Morris actually disagrees with the public health officials that environmental tobacco smoke causes disease.
↵† For example, Brown & Williamson stated that “it is able, to a degree, to vary the amount of nicotine in its cigarettes as they are manufactured, through tobacco blending, use of reconstituted tobacco, expanded tobacco and reduced tobacco weight. Brown & Williamson has used these techniques and other processes for reducing nicotine in cigarette smoke to offer smokers of cigarettes a range of nicotine values, using the FTC method.”24
↵‡ At the request of DOJ, the court in the US lawsuit ordered British American Tobacco to turn over the Foyle memo. British American Tobacco, however, refused to provide the memo and is appealing the judge’s discovery order. See Memorandum-Opinion, U.S. v. Philip Morris Inc., No. 99-CV-2496 (D.D.C. 10 July 2002). Oral arguments on that appeal were held on September 3, 2002. BATAS recently won an appeal of the Australia decision. British American Tobacco Australia Svcs. v. Cowell, 2002 VSCA 197. 6 December 2002. That decision will be appealed. Trust fund launched to keep McCabes together, The Age (Melbourne), 8 (11 December 2002).
↵§ Mr Schechter had previously explained: “The mental copy rule was to assume that everything you wrote was going to wind up in the hands of – was going to wind up on the front page of the local newspaper.” He then responded affirmatively when asked: “Would it also be to assume that documents could wind up in litigation?”44
Rep. Waxman gratefully acknowledges the work of Althea Gregory, JD, Joshua M Sharfstein, MD, Karen Lightfoot, MPA, and Philip S Barnett, JD, in the preparation of this report
This report was originally published on 17 September 2002 by the Special Investigations Division of the Democratic Staff of the US House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform. Only minor changes reflecting legal decisions have been made.
Additional materials related to this article can be found at: http://reform.house.gov/min/inves_tobacco/index_doj.htm.