Tobacco Industry Research Committee

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The Tobacco Industry Research Committee was founded in December 1953 in response to evidence linking tobacco smoking to serious illness such as lung cancer and heart disease.1

Image 1 Australian Council on Smoking & Health Parody of the 1953 NYC meeting between the tobacco industry and PR group Hill & Knowlton

On 14 December 1953, organised by Paul M. Hahn president of the American Tobacco Company, the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of the biggest tobacco companies in America met with public relations (PR) company Hill & Knowlton at the Plaza Hotel in New York City to plan how they were going to respond to the scientific research that showed that there was a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. 23 As a result of this meeting the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC) was established. The committee was run by PR firm Hill & Knowlton on behalf of the tobacco industry and was housed one floor below Hill & Knowlton’s offices within the Empire State Building in New York City.
In January 1954, one of the committee’s first acts was to publish the “Frank Statement” (Image 2). This act marked the start of the industry’s prolific use of doubt as an effective tactic to prevent smokers from quitting and to protect themselves from litigation. The Frank Statement was published in 448 newspapers throughout the United States with an estimated reach of approximately 43 million people nationwide. In addition the Frank Statement was widely reported on both the radio and the television.
The 1954 statement4 claimed:

1. That medical research of recent years indicates many possible causes of lung cancer.

2. That there is no agreement among the authorities regarding what the cause is.

3. That there is no proof that cigarette smoking is one of the causes.

4. That statistics purporting to link cigarette smoking with the disease could apply with equal force to any one of many other aspects of modern life. Indeed the validity of the statistics themselves is questioned by numerous scientists

Image 2 The Frank Statement, 1954

The statement also described what the TIRC were going to do to address the concerns that smoking causes cancer:

1. We are pledging aid and assistance to the research effort into all phases of tobacco use and health. This joint financial aid will of course be in addition to what is already being contributed by individual companies.

2. For this purpose we are establishing a joint industry group consisting initially of the undersigned. This group will be known as TOBACCO INDUSTRY RESEARCH COMMITTEE.

3. In charge of the research activities of the Committee will be a scientist of unimpeachable integrity and national repute. In addition there will be an Advisory Board of scientists disinterested in the cigarette industry. A group of distinguished men from medicine, science and education will be invited to serve on this Board. These scientists will advise the Committee on its research activities.

Despite the claims of the Frank Statement and the TIRC mission statement which stated the aim of the TIRC was ‘’to aid and assist research into tobacco use and health, and particularly into the alleged relationship between the use of tobacco and lung cancer, and to make available to the public factual information on this subject’’ the TIRC rarely conducted or supported any research which might reveal a link between smoking and cancer. In 1959, Clarence Cook Little, the scientific director of the TIRC listed the TIRC research areas.

1. Heredity

2. Infection

3. Nutrition

4. Hormones

5. Nervous strain or tension

6. Environmental factors

The amount of money spent on research was publically promoted to show the public that despite spending vast sums of money on research there still wasn’t conclusive evidence about the link between smoking and cancer. Over a period of approximately 40 years the industry disclosed that it had funded research by the TIRC to the tune of over $300 million. The TIRC disclosed monies spent as this was important PR, showing that the industry was investing millions to make sure that tobacco was safe for consumers.
In chapter 16 of his book titled Golden Holocaust, science historian Robert Proctor from Stanford University in the United States, details the long history of the Tobacco Industry Research Committee, from its conception by the tobacco industry under the advice of Hill & Knowlton, the scientists recruited, the research produced, the selective outputs publicised up until its eventual dissolution as a term of the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998.
In March 1964 the TIRC was renamed the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR).
As part of the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998, the TIRC/CTR, the Tobacco Institute and the (CIAR) were ordered to be disbanded. 5 The latter was responsible for casting doubt on the scientific evidence regarding the significant health impacts of second-hand smoke.

Quotes about the Tobacco Industry Research Committee

By as early as 1958, both the public health community and the tobacco industry itself expressed views that it was obvious that the TIRC was little more than a PR activity.
According to the American Cancer Society in 1958, the whole point of the TIRC was:

‘’to deny repeatedly’’ and ‘’mislead’’ and ‘’to convince the trusting tobacco-consuming public of the industry’s eleemosynary, ‘lasting interest in people’s health’ ‘’6

A similar view is presented by the tobacco industry and it’s associates as documented in private documents that can be found in the tobacco documents library:

‘’the constantly reiterated ‘not proven’ statements in the face of mounting contrary evidence has thoroughly discredited the TIRC, and the SAB Advisory Board of TIRC is supporting almost without exception project that are not related directly to smoking and lung cancer’’ (Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company, 1958)7

’’Most of the TIRC research has been diffuse and of a broad, basic nature not designed to specifically test the anti-cigarette theory.’’ (Covington & Burling, 1963) 8

In a 1998 law suit ‘’United States Vs Philip Morris’’ Judge Gladys Kessler stated that the TIRC was:

‘’a sophisticated public relations vehicle based on the premise of conducting independent scientific research – to deny the harms of smoking and reassure the public.’’ 9

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  1. A. M. Brandt, Inventing conflicts of interest: A history of tobacco industry tactics, American Journal of Public Health, 2012, 102(1), 63-71
  2. Australian Council on Smoking & Health, Big Tobacco: A story of lies, fraud & deceit, 2011, accessed November 2012
  3. R.N. Proctor, Golden Holocaust: Origins of the cigarette catastrophe and the case for abolition. 2011. Berkeley: University of California Press
  4. Tobacco Industry Research Committee, A Frank Statement January 1954, accessed November 2012
  5. Council for Tobacco Research, The Council for tobacco research – USA, Inc. plan of corporate dissolution and distribution of assets with resolutions adopting plan, 20 October 1998, accessed November 2012
  6. American Cancer Society, CA – Bulletin of Cancer Progress, March-April 1958, p71
  7. State of Minnesota Vs Philip Morris and others File no.C1-94-8565, 26 January 1998, accessed November 2012
  8. Covington & Burling, Confidential report prepared by TI outside counsel reflecting TI outside counsel’s advice and thoughts regarding industry strategy, January 1963, accessed November 2012
  9. United States District Court: Civil Action Number 99-2496 (GK), 1998, accessed November 2012