Statistics from Altmetric.com
The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates that, over the course of the 20th century, tobacco industry products claimed 100 million victims.1 With no disrespect to the statisticians in Geneva, we’d put the toll at 100 million and one. In the tobacco epidemic, as in all of history’s wars, the first casualty was truth. For half a century, it lay beneath a mountain of cover-ups, distortions and lies. And we’re still digging out.
Fortunately, facts are stubborn things. They have a way of prevailing, sooner or later, against even the most sophisticated of corporate conspiracies. Sooner or later. That’s the problem, of course, because, in the end, buying time is what this conspiracy is about. “Doubt is our product,” as a candid Brown & Williamson document puts it.2 A decade of doubt means billions of dollars in profits. Not to mention 50 million victims.
That’s why the truth matters, and matters urgently. That’s why, when Minnesota sued cigarette manufacturers in the 1990s, we made it our priority to battle our way into the secret document vaults and why we insisted the 35 million pages we found there be shared with the world. We were deeply honoured when former Surgeon General C Everett Koop called it one of the most important public health achievements of the century, and when the Minnesota litigation team received WHO’s Tobacco Free World Award. Now that Minnesota’s legislature, like those of most of the states of the US, has squandered the tobacco settlement payments on everything except tobacco control, we take solace in the ongoing global impact of the documents. Already they’ve provided material for about 450 scientific articles and government reports.3
That’s gratifying in itself, because the truth has intrinsic value. It sets the record straight; it restores the integrity of the scientific …
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