Tobacco industry statements in the US Department of Justice lawsuit

H. A. Waxman, Althea Gregory, Joshua M. Sharfstein, Karen Lightfoot, Philip S. Barnett

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7 Scopus citations


Over the last half century, the tobacco industry has earned billions of dollars in profits by selling a deadly and addictive product while denying its harmfulness. As criticism of the industry has accelerated in recent years, and calls for product regulation have grown, tobacco companies have defended themselves by saying they are now "responsible" corporations that aim to communicate honestly about their products. A test of whether the industry has reformed is the truthfulness of company statements made under penalty of sanction in a court of law. At the request of Rep. Henry A Waxman, this report examines recently submitted filings by the five largest cigarette manufacturers in the civil suit brought by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). The report assesses the truthfulness of company positions on three critical health issues: (1) the health effects of smoking; (2) the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke; and (3) the addictiveness of nicotine. The report also examines three companies' statements about previously controversial issues: Philip Morris's statements on control of nicotine, RJ Reynolds's statements on marketing to children, and British American Tobacco's statements on document destruction. The report finds that when forced to take legally binding positions, the tobacco industry still does not accept scientific consensus about the harms of their products. Despite overwhelming agreement among experts that cigarettes cause disease in smokers, that environmental tobacco smoke causes disease in nonsmokers, and that nicotine is addictive, the report finds: • Four of five major tobacco companies still question whether smoking causes disease - That smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other diseases is universally accepted by medical and scientific authorities. Yet Lorillard, British American Tobacco, and Brown & Williamson still qualified their statements on causation, and RJ Reynolds acknowledged only that smoking "may contribute to causing ...diseases in some individuals". • All five major tobacco companies deny that environmental tobacco smoke causes disease in non-smokers - Medical and scientific organisations that have found that environmental tobacco smoke causes disease include the US Surgeon General, the World Health Organization, and the American Medical Association. Yet the five leading tobacco companies all indicated that they disagree. Three of these tobacco companies, Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, and Brown & Williamson, admitted only that environmental tobacco smoke can be "irritating" or "annoying" to non-smokers. • Four of five major tobacco companies fail to admit that nicotine is addictive - Medical and scientific authorities uniformly agree that nicotine is addictive. Yet Lorillard stated that "after reasonable inquiry . . .the information known or readily obtainable by Lorillard is insufficient to enable Lorillard to further admit or deny" that nicotine is addictive. Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, and British American Tobacco dodged the question. The report also finds that individual tobacco companies are unwilling to take responsibility for well documented corporate behaviour. The report documents: • Philip Morris continues to deny it has control over nicotine - In 1996, former company scientists explained in detail how the company used a multitude of methods with the goal of "controlling the nicotine levels". Yet in its court filing, Philip Morris still denied it "'controls' the nicotine content of its cigarette filler or the . . .nicotine yields of cigarette smoke". • RJ Reynolds continues to deny it has marketed to children - Dozens of internal company documents show that RJ Reynolds planned to "[d]irect advertising appeal to the younger smokers" as young as 14 years of age. Yet in its court filing, RJ Reynolds stated it "is not aware that any of its marketing programs from 1954 to the present have targeted persons under the age of 18". • British American Tobacco continues to deny document destruction - An Australian court has recently determined that a British American Tobacco subsidiary destroyed thousands of documents to defeat smoking and health lawsuits. Just last month, a former general counsel and consultant of British American Tobacco admitted under oath that one purpose of the company's "document retention policy" was to prevent documents from being used in litigation. Yet in its court filing, British American Tobacco denied it ever "destroyed, caused to be destroyed, or [was] aware of the destruction of documents because the documents would have been adverse to [British American Tobacco] if they had been produced in discovery during smoking and health litigation".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)94-101
Number of pages8
JournalTobacco control
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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