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Cigarette company trade secrets are not secret: an analysis of reverse engineering reports in internal tobacco industry documents released as a result of litigation


Objectives Use previously secret tobacco industry documents to assess tobacco companies’ routine claims of trade secret protection for information on cigarette ingredients, additives and construction made to regulatory agencies, as well as the companies’ refusal to publicly disclose this information.

Methods We analysed previously secret tobacco industry documents available at ( to identify 100 examples of seven major tobacco companies’ reverse engineering of their competitors’ brands between 1937 and 2001.

Results These reverse engineering reports contain detailed data for 142 different measurements for at least two companies, including physical parameters of the cigarettes, tobacco types, humectants, additives, flavourings, and smoke constituents of competitors’ cigarettes. These 100 documents were distributed to 564 employees, including top managers in domestic and foreign offices across multiple departments, including executive leadership, research and design, product development, marketing and legal. These documents reported new competitors’ products, measured ingredient changes over time, and informed companies’ decisions regarding ingredients in their own products.

Conclusions Because cigarette companies routinely analyse their competitors’ cigarettes in great detail, this information is neither secret nor commercially valuable and, thus, does not meet the legal definition of a ‘trade secret.’ This information is only being kept ‘secret’ from the people consuming cigarettes and the scientific community. Public agencies should release this detailed information because it would provide valuable information about how ingredients affect addictiveness and toxicity, and would help the public health community and consumers better understand the impact of cigarette design on human health.

  • Tobacco Industry Documents
  • Public Policy
  • Surveillance and Monitoring

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