Influencing Science: Ghost Writing

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A ‘ghostwriter’ is a someone who writes books, articles, stories, or scientific reports which are officially credited to another person. Historically, the industry has used ghost writing as a way of covertly representing its interests through apparently independent voices, a practice that falls under the banner of third-party techniques. For example:

  • In the mid-eighties RJ Reynolds ran a ghost-writing programme, which included scientific research being reviewed by RJ Reynolds’ “panel prior to it being submitted for publication.1
  • In the early nineties, RJ Reynolds discussed using “celebrity” ghost-writers to “target adolescent males and females”, under the umbrella of “Deciding For Yourself” adverts to warn against peer pressure.2

In the mid-nineties, Mother Jones magazine enlisted eleven reporters to spend three months uncovering the tobacco industry’s current tactics. The result was a 40-page special report entitled “Tobacco Strikes Back” which documented how “The tobacco industry is engaged in a massive, largely hidden strategy to turn back a rising tide of government regulations, lawsuits, tax increases, smoking restrictions, and increased public opposition.”3

According to Mother Jones’ then editor “The scope of the tobacco industry’s project is massive … and the battle is being joined on every level – from Washington, where tobacco lobbyists are ghost writing letters for governors to send to the Food and Drug Administration, to mom & pop grocery stores, which are being enlisted as front groups to fight excise taxes and restrictions on the sale of tobacco.”3 For example, a memo from February 1995 from the Tobacco Institute recommended ghost-writing newspaper opinion articles to be signed and submitted by the Taxpayers Association, American labour unions and a group of tobacco wholesalers.4

The tactic continued into the next decade:

  • In 1997, consultants recommended ghost-writing to British American Tobacco (BAT) as one tactic to try and portray the company as responsible in regards to youth smoking.5
  • In 2000, the technique was used by Philip Morris as part of its advertising for Chesterfield cigarettes.6

Tobacco Tactics resources



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  1. W. Hayes, Visit with Carol Henry Microbiological Associates, 3 January 1985, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no. 508194081-508194082, accessed February 2024
  2. K. L. Verner, Youth Non-Smoking Concept — SASSY and DIRT Magazine, 22 April 1991, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no. 507785880, accessed February 2024
  3. abMother Jones, Mother Jones Publishes Broad Expose of Tobacco Politics – Special Issue Reveals Industry’s “Stealth” Tactics & Deep Ties to Republican Party, 17 April 1996, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no. 522525448-522525451, accessed February 2024
  4. Tom Hamburger and Greg Gordon, Tobacco industry uses other groups to get message out, 21 June 1998, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no. 2073193139-2073193143, accessed February 2024
  5. Research International, British-American Tobacco Opinion Benchmark Study, 13th March 1997, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no. 321207597-321207619, accessed February 2024
  6. Jonathan Murphy, Chesterfield Packaging and Advertising Evaluation Report, 5 December 2000, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no. 2080849217-2080849218