This page was last edited on at


Edelman is an international public relations (PR) company. It describes itself as “the world’s largest independent PR agency”.1 It has a long history of working with the tobacco industry. Its association goes back to the 1970s, when Edelman (then known as Daniel J Edelman) proposed an “aggressive” public relations campaign to help RJ Reynolds attack and undermine perceptions of the health hazards of smoking.2
In the 1980s and 1990s it worked for the Tobacco Alliance, Tobacco Advisory Council (TAC) and Infotab, an international tobacco industry group made up of the major worldwide tobacco companies and associated trade groups. In the late 1990s, it worked for British American Tobacco on its sponsorship of the world rally championship.3

Different Tobacco Tactics Adopted by Edelman

“Position anti-smokers as an unrepresentative minority”

In 1987, Edelman produced a plan for Infotab on how the industry could fight an international campaign against proposed bans on smoking, which were being driven by mounting concern about the health impact of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), also known as second-hand smoke (SHS). It said that “the anti-smoking industry has developed the ETS issue into a major threat” and “Infotab has recognised that a co-ordinated, international action plan must be produced as a matter of the first priority.”4 Edelman’s strategy was to “maintain doubt on the scientific front, position ETS as one of many atmospheric contaminants, position anti-smokers as a vocal, unrepresentative minority and promote tolerance, consideration as preferable to regulation.”4

Present smoking as “a normal and rational activity”

A 1993 communications plan for the TAC, written by Edelman, aimed to maintain the freedom of “TAC member companies to compete openly and fairly in the market place” and “smokers to be able to smoke a legal product, at an accessible price”. It marked a major shift in communications strategy. “Communicating directly to the smoker has, to date, played little part in TAC strategy,” it said. “The message that the smoker needs to hear is that smoking is a normal and rational activity. We must seek to replace the image of smokers as an embattled minority on the defensive by the recognition that smokers are a significant body of people who choose to smoke and whose wishes should therefore be taken into account.”5

“No scientific consensus’ about second-hand smoke”

In the late 1980s, Edelman produced a booklet, on behalf of the tobacco industry, aimed at employers. It claimed to present them with the “facts” about SHS in the workplace. It said that “environmental tobacco smoke is not a proven health hazard” though “it may be presented as one by anti-smoking activists whose motives are questionable”. It discouraged employers from banning smoking at work, suggesting that they install ventilation equipment, or simply try “opening windows” instead.6

“…it’s like sitting next to a garlic-eater”

Edelman also produced a booklet arguing against smoking bans on flights. It admitted that non-smokers might find SHS annoying, but likened it to having “a garlic-eater in the next seat”, “talkative or noisy fellow-travellers” or “crying children” and said “to legislate against all such annoyances would be absurd.”7

Injunct critical reporting or discredit it?

In 1984, Edelman wrote to tobacco executives ahead of the broadcast of a Channel 4 film on the tobacco industry’s parliamentary lobbying. In the context of an agreed “robust” communications programme, Edelman suggested that the industry either “seek a legal injunction against the programme to prevent it being broadcast” or “attempt to discredit the programme in advance by issuing before the broadcast a press release explaining why the industry refused to co-operate.”8

The Tobacco Advisory Council

In June 1987, Edelman wrote a proposal on “managing the ETS issue” for the TAC. Acknowledging that “ETS is a serious threat to the industry”, Edelman proposed a strategy that aimed to “maintain doubt” over the health impact of second-hand smoke, “principally via third parties”. It stated: “The value of independent third-party endorsement of the strategic themes should be integral to the programme – and the Group proposes that so far as is prudent TAC and companies apply a hands-off approach to ensure the credibility and authority of third-party work is not undermined.” Other organisations mentioned in the report include Forest and the Tobacco Alliance.9

Running the Tobacco Alliance

Edelman ran the day-to-day operations of the Tobacco Alliance, on a contract managed by the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2000, the contract passed from Edelman to its sister company PR21.10
Tobacco manufacturers set up the Alliance so that it appeared to be independent from the industry. A 1983 presentation said: “Early on we decided that it would be preferable to keep the Alliance at arms length from TAC, the predecessor to the TMA and the industry and with its own identity and address, to emphasize to supporters, as far as is practical, that it had a degree of independence. Thus while the industry determines policy and provides the funds, the day to day management is the responsibility of our PR agents Daniel J Edelman.”11
Edelman and the industry wanted the Alliance to appear to be a large, grassroots protest against public health policies designed to reduce smoking.12
In a 1983 strategy document, Edelman outlined several arguments for the Alliance to use against tighter regulation. They are strikingly similar to those used by many smoking lobby groups today. They include:

  • ‘We are fighting for freedom and liberty’- “It’s your freedom, that could be at stake… Freedom is based on the right to choose and that includes whether or not to smoke… To have such rights eroded is to hasten the day when all our freedoms are threatened.”12
  • ‘We are fighting against prejudice’- “The Tobacco Alliance is in the fight, countering prejudice and ignorance with facts and cool arguments… The arguments for restricting smoking are often based not on truth, but on prejudice.”12
  • ‘It’s actually very complicated’- “The issues are serious and far more complex than the anti-smokers would appear to realise… They tend to be simplistic, failing to grasp the real complexities of the issue.”12
  • ‘We are fighting for ordinary people’- “It’s some of the least privileged who tend to be hardest hit – pensioners, for instance, who may have smoked for years and now find it increasingly costly to enjoy that was once a cheap, simple pleasure.”12
  • ‘We are scapegoats’- “Smoking has become a scapegoat for a range of social evils. It’s the thing that certain do-gooders now love to hate.”12
  • ‘Our critics are few in number’ – “All because of pressure from small, vociferous anti-smoking groups.”12
  • ‘Other industries will be next’ – “There are signs of similar campaigns against sweets, manufactured foods, animal fats, refined sugar… almost anything becomes a candidate when somebody thinks it’s bad for you and therefore you mustn’t do it… If the anti-smokers succeed, the anti-drinkers will muscle in. Indeed, a campaign against the liquor industry is already under way.”12
  • ‘The tobacco industry is highly responsible’ – “Few people realise that the industry itself has constantly been at pains to behave responsibly.”12

How Edelman influenced MPs

In September 1989, Edelman produced a paper for Infotab that described how the industry used the Tobacco Alliance to pressure MPs to stop proposed tax increases on cigarettes.13 The campaign involved mobilising retailers to contact their local MP with the following message: “High tobacco taxes are damaging my business. Please tell the Government it can mitigate this by holding tobacco tax in check.”13

  • ‘Third-party support’ – The paper described in detail how “third-party support” – a classic PR strategy that involves putting industry messages in the mouth of a seemingly independent group (see our page on Third Party Techniques for more information) – was at the centre of the campaign. Edelman said: “This paper advances the concept and presents a model – used successfully in the UK for several years – not only of widening the currency of tobacco industry arguments but more importantly of applying pressure through the constitutional system to oblige support and ensure the government machine itself is aware of the strength of that support.”13

It continued: “The UK model relies upon politicising tobacco arguments: making them relevant to parliamentarians (by virtue of their responsibilities to constituents); requiring those parliamentarians to present the arguments to government as legitimate constituent concerns; and multiplying the delivery of submissions to key government offices many times. To do so effectively requires the establishment of a third-party coalition. In the UK this is known as the Tobacco Alliance.”13

  • Supporters ‘entirely independent’ of the tobacco industry – With no hint of irony, it continued: “Its strength is that active supporters are entirely independent of the tobacco industry”. Edelman suggested to Infotab members wanting to launch similar campaigns that they should:13
  • “Arrange and stage-manage contact between a retailer and ‘his’ Parliamentarian… It is vitally important that the dialogue is between the retailer and his parliamentarian – with no direct input from campaign organisers.”
  • “Encourage Parliamentarians to form individual party delegations to the Finance Minister. In receipt of co-ordinated information and obliged to represent their individual electorates, this gives parliamentarians an additional opportunity to feed the pressure on the Finance Minister: once, on an individual basis representing constituency views ; twice, together with like-minded colleagues”.
  • It helps avoid the health issue – Edelman added: “A distinct bonus of the retailer third party is that the ‘health’ question need not enter the argument, and indeed can be positively dismissed. The retailer’s business simply meets a local consumer need – he credibly has no responsibility for promoting particular tobacco companies, products or brands.”

It also said that the third-party technique garners positive media coverage: “Its value lies in it not being perceived as orchestrated by the tobacco industry”.
The paper advised: “As far as is possible, protect the third-party status of the Alliance by keeping the industry’s public involvement to the minimum. In the UK this has been achieved by very careful responses to questioning, necessitating the use of agreed forms of words. It may be possible to establish the Alliance ‘management’ as a paper consortium of trade associations etc”.

  • The first tobacco freeze for 14 years – And the results? Edelman said: “The Tobacco Advisory Council has sponsored campaigns of this nature for six years. For the first three years the effects of traditionally high-increase budgets and enormous health-lobby activity resulted in significant tax rises in excess of inflation. It is believed however that the campaigns helped mitigate against even worse treatment. In 1987 the first tobacco tax freeze for 14 years was recorded. In 1988 a rise in line with inflation was imposed and in 1989 there was another freeze. Finance ministers will probably never admit to what or which political pressure forced a change away from ‘normal practice’. Certainly the Tobacco Alliance cannot legitimately claim sole credit for achieving fair treatment for tobacco. Its activities have been complementary to a range of lobbying and briefing strategies undertaken by the industry. But the fact remains that hundreds of retailers have got what they asked of their constituency parliamentarians.”
Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Edelman, Edelman UK website, undated, accessed January 2012
  2. Daniel J Edelman, A proposal for RJ Reynolds Industries, Inc, 12 August 1977, accessed February 2012
  3. Edelman Public Relations Worldwide, Strategic Communication Plan in Connection with the FIA World Rally Championship 555 Subaru Team, March 1997, accessed February 2012
  4. abDaniel J Edelman, Infotab ETS project the overall plan, 12 March 1987, accessed February 2012
  5. Daniel J Edelman Limited, Communicating the Case for Tobacco: Review and Forward Planning for TAC, 27 March 1993, accessed February 2012
  6. Daniel J Edelman Incorporated, Smoking at work, undated, accessed February 2012
  7. Daniel J Edelman, Should the no-smoking sign stay on forever?, undated, accessed February 2012
  8. David Davis, Diverse Reports/Smoke Ring – Panorama, Edelman, 30 January 1984, accessed February 2012
  9. David J Edelman Ltd, Managing The ETS Issue, 18 June 1987, accessed February 2012
  10. TMA, Tobacco Alliance Account, 19 December 2000, accessed January 2012
  11. Tony St Aubyn, How to set up a Tobacco Alliance, Tobacco Alliance, 20 September 1983, accessed January 2012
  12. abcdefghiPaula Rippon, Tobacco Alliance Audio-Visual, Daniel J Edelman Limited, 31 January 1983, accessed February 2012
  13. abcdeEdelman Public Relations, Third-party support for the tobacco industry – a UK case history model, September 1989, accessed February 2012