Influencing Science: The Whitecoat Project

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In the late 1980s, Philip Morris (PM),1 working with its lawyers Covington and Burling, outlined a covert pan-European plan to use independent scientists in their fight against regulations on second-hand smoke, called Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) by the industry. Whitecoat’s objectives were both ‘proactive’ and ‘reactive’. The end goal of the project was to “resist and roll back smoking restrictions” but also to “restore social acceptability of smoking”.2

“Sustain Controversy”

PM’s secret method of recruiting so-called independent scientists for the project is laid out in various documents. One is BAT scientist Dr Sharon Boyce, who attended a “special meeting” on London in 1988:3

The Philip Morris philosophy of ETS was presented. This appeared to revolve around the selection, in all possible countries, of a group of scientists either to critically review the scientific literature on ETS to sustain controversy, or to carry out research on ETS. In each country a group of scientists would be carefully selected, and organised, by a national coordinating scientist.3

“No previous connections with tobacco companies”

The scientists:

“should, ideally, according to Philip Morris, be European scientists who have had no previous connections with tobacco companies and who have no previous record on the primary health issue which might … lead to problems of attribution. The mechanism by which they identify their consultants is as follows: they ask a couple of scientists in each country … to produce a list of potential consultants. The scientists are then contacted by these coordinators or by the lawyers and asked if they are interested in problems of Indoor Air Quality: tobacco is not mentioned at this stage. CV’s are obtained and obvious “anti-smokers” or those with “unsuitable backgrounds” are filtered out…”3

Philip Morris then expect the group of scientists to operate within the confines of decisions taken by PM scientists to determine the general direction of research, which apparently would then be ‘filtered’ by lawyers to eliminate areas of sensitivity.3

Boyse’s notes include a list of 18 scientists, mostly at British universities, who were suggested as possible consultants.3

“Instead of Second-Hand Smoke, What about Pet Birds as a Cause of Cancer?”

By 1990, Covington and Burling boasted of its successes of the Whitecoat project.4 “One consultant is an adviser to a particularly relevant committee of the House of Commons”.4 Another was recruited as an editor of the Lancet.4 A third was “providing medical advice to Middle eastern Governments”.4 One other consultant conducted “research into factors other than passive smoking that cause lung cancer – keeping pet birds”.45

Tobacco Tactics Resources

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  1. Philip Morris split in to Philip Morris International (PMI) and Altria in 2008
  2. Philip Morris, Proposal for the Organisation of the Whitecoat Project, 25 June 2002, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no. 3990006961-3990006964
  3. abcdeDr. Sharon Boyse, Note On a Special Meeting Of the UK Industry on Environmental Tobacco Smoke London, 17 February 1988, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no. 2063791182-2063791187
  4. abcdeClare Dyer, “US tobacco firm paid scientists as stooges”, The Guardian, 14 May 1998
  5. ASH,,