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Tobacco company strategies to identify and promote the benefits of nicotine
  1. Pamela M Ling1,
  2. Stanton A Glantz2
  1. 1 Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  2. 2 Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Pamela M Ling, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-1390, USA; pamela.ling{at}


Background In response to a changing regulatory and consumer landscape, tobacco companies developed new strategies to promote cigarettes and smoking. We examined one of these strategies: to fund and conduct scientific research related to potential benefits of nicotine, and to use their findings to promote nicotine.

Methods Qualitative analysis of previously secret tobacco industry documents from the Truth (formerly Legacy) Tobacco Documents Library (, triangulated with data from other sources, including the online search engine Google, from the 1970s to December 2017.

Results After publication of the 1988 Surgeon General’s report on nicotine addiction, tobacco companies (particularly RJ Reynolds) intensified efforts to promote the benefits of nicotine while downplaying its addictiveness and health risks. Activities included building relationships with academic institutions and funding scientific studies of the benefits of nicotine on cognition and other performance areas through intramural and extramural programmes. Companies then promoted their research findings through public relations campaigns, often minimising nicotine’s health risks by comparing it to caffeine or coffee. These comparisons appeared in highly publicised scientific meetings and interviews with the press. Nicotine-positive messages reappeared in the popular press and on some company websites in the 2010s.

Conclusions Tobacco companies implemented strategies to promote benefits of nicotine to scientific and general audiences while minimising its health risks. These strategies reappeared at the time novel tobacco products like electronic cigarettes were introduced. A greater awareness of the source of claims related to purported benefits of nicotine could inform discussions about emerging tobacco products.

  • tobacco industry documents
  • nicotine
  • tobacco industry

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  • Contributors PML and SAG both contributed to document reviews and analysis, manuscript drafts and revision, oversight, reviewed key documents and provided critical input in all stages of the analysis and approved the final draft of the manuscript.

  • Funding This research was supported by the National Cancer Institute grants R01-CA141661 and R01-CA87472.

  • Disclaimer The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.