SMOKESCREEN: Book Reveals Tobacco Industry's 35-Year PR Strategy

Research on the tobacco industry's 35-year public relations strategy

From 1995 to 1996, a fellow at the Harvard University School of Public Health, Boston, documented a 35-year campaign by the tobacco industry to de-emphasize evidence of the health effects of tobacco.

The research resulted in the book SMOKESCREEN: The Truth Behind the Tobacco Industry Cover-up by Philip J. Hilts, a correspondent on health and science policy for The New York Times who was a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health's Center for Health Communication.

As the primary reporter covering tobacco issues for the paper, Hilts drew on prior research for articles he had written on tobacco, including a front-page series.

Research for SMOKESCREEN: The Truth Behind the Tobacco Industry Cover-up also involved gathering thousands of pages of internal documents from tobacco companies as well as tracking down and interviewing former employees of the companies, and conducting literature reviews.

Key Results

    • SMOKESCREEN was published in 1996 by Addison Wesley. SMOKESCREEN contains:
      • A detailed picture of how one company markets cigarettes to children as young as 12 years old, along with the surveys it uses with these youngsters to determine what they want, including never-before-published materials on R.J. Reynolds' (RJR) marketing to "young adults."
      • Documents not previously published in book form, including the deposition of Brown and Williamson (B&W) researcher Jeffrey Wigand, the statements of three Philip Morris executives who recently broke ranks, and details from inside the ABC-Philip Morris lawsuit.
      • The first inside picture of the inside workings of the Food and Drug Administration as it moved forward in its plan to regulate cigarettes as a drug.
      • An inside look at politics in Washington and why Congress has voted with tobacco interests year after year, including dollar figures on how much money key Congressmen take from tobacco interests.
      • A chapter on the fakery used to make modern cigarettes (only about half of a modern cigarette is tobacco leaf; the rest includes everything from scraps off the floor to ammonia).
      • A profile of the most important whistle-blower, Merrell Williams, with never-before published material about his life and motives in taking the B&W papers.
      • Exclusive material on the RJR "safe" cigarette that was ready to be launched, and how it was developed.
  • The author gave more than 75 interviews to the national media, including National Public Radio and "Today" on NBC. Business Week dubbed the work one of "the best business books of 1996."

  • Hilts also gave a seminar for students and faculty of the Harvard School of Public Health on the public relations strategies of tobacco companies.

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