Tobacco Institute

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The tobacco industry founded the Tobacco Institute (TI) in the United States (US) in 1958. The Institute was funded by both the major and smaller tobacco companies of the day. The amount of money provided by each company was determined by their share of the US cigarette market. The TI was the group primarily responsible for communicating the tobacco industry’s standpoint on tobacco-related health and economic issues to the public and to government (i.e. lobbying). [1]

Tobacco Institute in Their Own Words

“Creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it”

In 1972, Fred Panzer, Vice President of the Tobacco Institute from 1971 to 1980, wrote a memo called “The Roper Proposal”. In the memo, Panzer mentioned how the tobacco industry had created public doubt about the science linking smoking with disease and how the Institute needed to adapt their methods and messages in order to keep this controversy alive.

“It is my strong belief that we now have an opportunity to take the initiative in the cigarette controversy, and turn it around. For twenty years, this industry has employed a single strategy to defend itself on three major fronts – litigation, politics and public opinion. While the strategy was brilliantly conceived and executed … it is not - nor was it intended to be - a vehicle for victory. On the contrary, it has always been a holding strategy, consisting of:

  • Creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it.
  • Advocating the public’s right to smoke, without actually urging them to take up the practice.
Encouraging objective scientific research as the only way to resolve the question of health hazard.”[2]

In the memo, Panzer proposes that in order to move forward two explanations should be proffered for ill health amongst smokers in order to divert attention from smoking as a cause of illness.

1. Constitutional Hypothesis: People who smoke differ in terms of their heredity, constitutional make-up, lifestyles and life pressure
2. Multi-factorial Hypothesis: Research continues to uncover new contributing factors to the illnesses for which smoking is being blamed e.g. pollution, viruses, additives in food, occupational hazards and stress.

The goal was to promote the message: “Cigarette smoking may not be the health hazard that the anti-smoking people say it is because other alternatives are at least probable.”[2]

This memo, which is publicly available in the online Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, has subsequently been used in litigation proceedings against the tobacco industry.

As part of putting the above plan into action, in 1972 the TI produced a film that suggested that the link between smoking and heart disease could be explained by the personality traits of smokers. They characterised smokers as “more aggressive, outgoing, extroverted people…full of tension” and that such characters were more likely to get heart disease and indeed to smoke. As late as 1998, the TI still stated that the health effects of smoking were unclear. For example, in his testimony at the ‘Minnesota versus Philip Morris Incorporated and others’ trial, Murray Walker, the Vice President and Chief Spokesperson for the TI, said: “We don't believe it's ever been established that smoking is the cause of disease.” [3]

Is Nicotine Addictive?

In a telling memo between colleagues in 1980, the TI stressed the importance attached to the tobacco industry’s denial that nicotine was addictive. This is despite the fact that tobacco companies had known since the 1960s that nicotine was in fact addictive.[4]

…the entire matter of addiction is the most potent weapon a prosecuting attorney can have in a lung cancer/cigarette case. We can’t defend continued smoking as ‘free choice’ if the person was addicted.[5]

In response to the Surgeon General’s report on nicotine addiction in 1988, (published over 25 years after the tobacco companies had been discussing the addictive nature of nicotine), the TI responded with a memo refuting the claims that cigarettes were addictive. They argued: “claims that cigarettes are addictive contradict common sense … An escalation of antismoking rhetoric … without medical or scientific foundation.”[6] They consistently argued that if cigarettes were addictive then nobody would be able to give up, yet a significant proportion of smokers had successfully quit.

Hiring the Ogilvy Group

In 1987, the Tobacco Institute hired Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) - see the Ogilvy Group - to provide (according to the original communication):

public affairs consulting services on the excise tax, public smoking and coalition building issues, as well as public relations support to The Tobacco Industry Labor Management Committee. These services shall include, but not be limited to, assistance in strategy development and implementation, writing assignments as appropriate. And initiating and maintaining contact with targeted coalition groups.
The Institute will pay Ogilvy a retainer of $45,000 a month to perform the services described above. Any assignments outside the scope of this contract will be negotiated separately.”[7]

In the same year, the Institute also commissioned O&M to address the increasing public concern regarding environmental tobacco smoke.[8] O&M conceived and executed a well-constructed and targeted campaign to divert attention away from tobacco smoke in the work place and onto the actual building in which people worked by publicising a phenomenon known as ‘Sick Building Syndrome’.

Promoting High Quality Research

In his book The Golden Holocaust, Robert Proctor reported that the TI proposed the creation of the Tobacco and Health Research Program at the University of Harvard.[4] It was established in 1972 with financial assistance from the tobacco industry. The Chief of Respiratory Diseases at Boston City Hospital’s Harvard Medical Unit, Gary Huber, was identified as the research lead after expressing a view favourable to the industry perspective. Huber believed that it was significant that only some smokers developed cancer, whilst others did not.

”As a chest physician, I would like to know which of my patients I should ask to stop smoking.”

This meant that the industry could legitimately promote alternative causes of cancer other than smoking, via a respected chest physician at a respected University. The Tobacco and Health Research Program at Harvard received $7 million over an eight year period.

However, by 1978 Huber had made some research conclusions that were causing concern to the industry. Huber’s research suggested that low-tar cigarettes were not safer and could possibly be more dangerous than ‘normal’ cigarettes as smokers “held the smoke from the low-tar cigarettes in their lungs a longer time in an apparent effort to extract more satisfaction from them.”

The Medical Director of the TI in 1978, Charles Waite criticised Huber’s research for being under-powered owing to too small a sample size. Waite also defended the industry by claiming that they had never implied that low-tar cigarettes were any safer. However, industry documents refute this claim, “Low tar products…will serve as an important mechanism for reassuring smokers”[9]

Lawyers for Lorillard, Shook, Hardy and Brown & Williamson felt it was time for the industry to end their affiliation with Huber out of concern that he was “getting too close to some things”. By 1980, Huber’s industry funding at Harvard was withdrawn. Fifteen years after his relationship with the tobacco industry came to an end, Huber claimed that he had been used as a public relations pawn. Huber agreed to testify against his former funders after being shown private industry documents relating to his research and the role it played in the industry’s promotion of public doubt in relation to the harmful health impacts of smoking.

From 2002, the School for Public Health in Harvard decided to no longer accept tobacco industry research funding for any of their projects. Following litigation in the 1990s and the subsequent Master Settlement Agreement the TI along with the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (Council for Tobacco Research) was disbanded in 1998.


  1. C. P. Morely, K. M. Cummings, A. Hyland, G. A. Giovino, J. K. Horan, Tobacco Institute lobbying at the state and local levels of government in the 1990s, 2002, 11(Suppl I):i102-i109, Accessed December 2012
  2. 2.0 2.1 Fred Panzer, Memo “The Roper Proposal, 1 May 1972, Legacy Documents Library, Bates no: 87657703-87657706, Accessed December 2012
  3. M. Walker, Testimony at the Minnesota Trial, 1998 cited in C. Bates & A. Rowell, Tobacco Explained: The truth about the tobacco industry…in its own words, Accessed December 2012
  4. 4.0 4.1 R.N. Proctor, Golden Holocaust: Origins of the cigarette catastrophe and the case for abolition. 2011. Berkeley: University of California Press
  5. Paul. C. Knopick, U.S Exhibit 21,275, Memo, re: Technical review of the conference discussing adding "Addictive" to the warning label, Tobacco Institute, 9 September 1980, Bates no: USX012707-USX012708, Accessed December 2012
  6. Tobacco Institute, Claims That Cigarettes are Addictive Contradict Common Sense, 16 May 1988, Bates no: 300564502, Accessed December 2012
  7. William Kloepfer, Letter from William Kloepfer, Jr of the Tobacco Institute to Joseph Powell Jr of Ogilvy & Mather Public Affairs, Bates No: TI0116-0547, 30 June 1987, accessed April 2013
  8. Ogilvy and Mather, ETS Advertising Recommendations: The Business Reader Campaign, Bates No: TIDN0010842/0879, 9 February 1987, accessed March 2013
  9. TCH, Year 2000, BAT Collection, 4 April 1979, Bates no 109883101, Accessed December 2012