Project Sunrise

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“Paint Antis as Extremists”


Project Sunrise was a decade-long project undertaken by Philip Morris, intended to lead to the “dawn of a new day” for the tobacco giant in the 1990s when the company was under attack from various public health bodies and on legal fronts.

Divide and Rule

Having studied 600 internal industry documents about the project, researchers concluded that Philip Morris’ intention was “explicitly to divide and conquer the tobacco control movement by forming relationships with what it considered ‘moderate’ tobacco control individuals and organisations.”1
One 1996 “Tipping the Scales of Justice” Philip Morris document specifically outlined how the company should “drive a wedge between anti-groups”:

  • Form alliances with groups that support federal legislation on youth smoking;
  • Foster debate that divides anti groups over issue of youth smoking vs; prohibition” 2

A Four Part Strategy Against the Antis

Build Bridges, Undermine Funding

Joshua Slavitt, the policy issues director in PM’s issues management department, also outlined a four part campaign “to successfully counter the anti-tobacco industry” or ATI as he called it:

*Intensify research on the composition, objectives and initiatives of the anti-tobacco industry — build on existing information and establish new channels of information;

* Build relationships with potentially moderate anti-tobacco groups to exacerbate conflicts within the movement and define extremists;

* Diminish funding sources available to the ATI;

* Weaken credibility of anti-tobacco groups and individuals (with an emphasis on their leadership)

Regarding co-option of the industry’s critics, Slavitt argued the company needed to:

“Form relationships with anti-tobacco groups that are the most amenable to this company’s positions in order to enhance our credibility by demonstrating our ability to seek realistic solutions on tobacco-related issues. In addition, build relationships with so-called “moderate” anti-tobacco groups in order to disrupt the ATI’s cohesion and create opportunities to focus attention on prohibitionists. This strategy should not be viewed as a monolithic effort. Instead, the company should seek out opportunities on a case-by-case basis.”

Using FOIs as a Legal Tool Against the Tobacco Control Movement

On diminishing funding, Slavitt recommended several “legal options” that Philip Morris should pursue. One included establishing “a coalition of watch-dog groups, conservative media and non-traditional allies to publicize evidence of abuses of federal and state statutes” as well as considering “the availability of FOIA’s, congressional interventions and other public document collection opportunities”

The Slippery Slope

Finally Slavitt recommended that Philip Morris should use the so-called “slippery slope” argument to prove the “extremism” of the tobacco control movement. “Demonstrate extremism of health prevention movement — tobacco products, then alcohol, then red meat and other products,” he wrote. 3

“Paint Antis As Extremists”

Slavitt’s recommendation to paint the tobacco control movement as extreme is nothing new. The tobacco industry has deliberately tried to position itself as the rational voice in the smoking debate, whilst painting the tobacco control movement as extremists.
For example, in 1991, the US Tobacco Institute recommended that the industry should be “Seizing the political center and forcing the anti-smokers to an extreme” as well as “Bait anti-tobacco forces to criticize industry efforts. Focus media attention on antis’ extremism”. 4

The same tactic was adopted by Project Sunrise. Researchers who have studied the Project Sunrise documents argue that “Philip Morris sought to strip some tobacco control advocates – those who rejected its offer of partnership – of public credibility by characterising them as extremists”.

The documents reveal that in the 1996 “Tipping the Scales of Justice” Philip Morris document recommended that on the one hand the tobacco giant undertake “Coalition Building/Ally Development” that included “Building Broad Base of Support” and “educating and activating allies”. And on the other hand, that tobacco control organisations – or “antis” – drew their strength from ‘‘their funding, their credibility in public opinion, and their unity.” The document went on to say:
“Our primary strategies focus on impacting each of the three sources of strength:

  • find ways to diminish funding for antis’ activities
  • weaken the credibility of the antis
  • drive a wedge between various anti groups.

One key way Philip Morris recommended to attack the credibility was to:

  • “Position antis as extremists” 5
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  1. P A McDaniel, E A Smith, R E Malone, “Philip Morris’s Project Sunrise: weakening tobacco control by working with it”, Tobacco Control, 2006;15:215–223.
  2. Philip Morris, “TIPPING THE SCALES OF JUSTICE”, 1996
  3. Joshua Slavitt, Public Policy Plan, 15 January 1996
  4. Tobacco Institute, Discussion Paper, 29 January 1991
  5. Philip Morris, “TIPPING THE SCALES OF JUSTICE”, 1996