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July 19, 1995

Looking Through a Keyhole at the Tobacco Industry: The Brown and Williamson Documents

Author Affiliations

From the Institute for Health Policy Studies, Department of Medicine and Division of Clinical Pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco (Drs Glantz and Bero, Ms Barnes, and Mr Hanauer), and the Department of Medicine, St Peter's Medical Center, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick (Dr Slade).

JAMA. 1995;274(3):219-224. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530030039032

Objective.  —To introduce a series of papers discussing previously undocumented tobacco industry activities regarding strategies to avoid products liability litigation, understand nicotine addiction, and manipulate both internal and external scientific research on the effects of both active and passive smoking.

Data Sources.  —Documents from Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W), the British American Tobacco Company (BAT), and other tobacco interests provided by an anonymous source, obtained from Congress, and received from the private papers of a former BAT officer.

Study Selection.  —All available materials, including confidential reports regarding research and internal memoranda exchanged between tobacco industry lawyers.

Conclusions.  —These documents provide our first look at the inner workings of the tobacco industry during the crucial period in which the scientific case that smoking is addictive and kills smokers solidified. The documents show a sophisticated legal and public relations strategy to avoid liability for the diseases induced by tobacco use. The documents show that lawyers steered scientists away from particular research avenues, which is inconsistent with the company's purported disbelief in the causation and addiction claims; if the company had been genuinely unconvinced by the causation and addiction hypotheses, then it should have had no concern that new research would provide ammunition for the enemy. Quite the contrary, the documents show that B&W and BAT recognized more than 30 years ago that nicotine is addictive and that tobacco smoke is "biologically active" (eg, carcinogenic).(JAMA. 1995;274:219-224)