tobacco industry statements in the suit

December 6, 2004 5:30 pm by krueger

A report prepared for Congressman Henry Waxman examines tobacco industry statements in the Department of Justice trial:

Report: Tobacco Companies Still Deny Harm of Cigarettes

The report finds a lot of waffling and denial in tobacco industry statements filed in the trial. It concludes:

“Despite their attempts to portray themselves as new and responsible companies, leading cigarette manufacturers continue to deny or evade in the DOJ litigation the truth about the health effects of smoking, the harm of environmental tobacco smoke, and the addictiveness of nicotine. Moreover, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and British American Tobacco have also not accepted evidence of their corporate behavior regarding control of nicotine in cigarettes, marketing to children, and document destruction. Their misleading and evasive statements conflict with the companies assertions that they have reformed.”

To compare what the industry says in its PR with what it says in court filings, is to get an education in what it gets away with in its PR, and how.

In court filings, it has to answer specific questions. But in its PR, it gets to choose the questions. Do we manipulate nicotine? Have we marketed to children? In industry PR, these questions never come up.

That’s one way the industry doesn’t look evasive in its PR. It chooses the questions; it answers them. It looks open and honest.

In court filings, the industry has to make sworn statements that it can be held to. In its PR, it’s not under oath. This combines nicely with the previous way. It can say things in PR that sound decisive, sound like they’ve put an issue to rest once and for all, knowing it won’t be held to them. In court the same day it waffles.

So: industry PR speaks of “the serious health effects of smoking”. There. The industry has come clean, right?

No so much. In court, the industry says: “The strength of the statistical evidence and lack of an alternative explanation for the increased risk of disease in groups of smokers, coupled with the fact that the experimental evidence does not refute the conclusion that smoking causes disease, leads Brown & Williamson to concur that the best judgment is that smoking is a cause of certain diseases.” And then says: the company’s “best judgment” is simply one way to interpret the evidence. And then says: “Brown and Williamson recognizes that on the state of the experimental evidence, others may reach different judgments.”

Now you might ask, why does the industry even bother going through these verbal gymnastics. Hasn’t it admitted everything on health and smoking? Isn’t that covered by “serious health effects”? The answer is, once again the industry wants to have it both ways. It wants to get credit for having “come clean” with “admissions” but it doesn’t want to be held to the admissions.

So when it’s putting out PR for public consumption, it crafts simple, straightforward statements (although at the same time carefully soft and vague). Sounds open. Doesn’t sound evasive.

But when it’s in court, and can be held to what it says: denial and evasion. Answers like the one featured above.

The report examines 6 major areas of denial and evasion, and documents responses of the 5 major tobacco companies in each area.

13 Responses to “tobacco industry statements in the suit”

  1. David Says:

    Let’s consider the source. Henry Waxman is so far to the left that anything he saids is bias toward the tobacco company. I am not defending the tobacco industry but if you want a fair and unbias opinion than it should come from someone who does not have a mission to start with.

  2. Emanual Goldstein Says:

    David: You ARE defending the tobacco industry. The companiess thrive on in-your-face marketing and public relations. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard YOUR voice in the fray.

    The market-place of ideas is so skewed to the tobacco industry side (the side of outright drug dealers) it takes rhetoric aplenty to convey true-facts.

    The truth of the industry fraud is evident from the record and it is clear. Nobody disputes that. Is your personal beef that you want to hear it from an acceptable mouth-piece, or do you really want David Hardy and Ed Jacob?

    Eman

  3. tobacco observer Says:

    So let me get this straight: When the tobacco companies use clear English in their press releases to the public about the risks of smoking, there is somehow something WRONG with that? If they deny that smoking is harmful. . .they’re committing fraud. But when they do say smoking is harmful. . .they’re also committing fraud, is that it?

    This is what Philip Morris has to say publically about the risks of smoking:

    “Philip Morris USA agrees with the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers. Smokers are far more likely to develop serious diseases, like lung cancer, than non-smokers. There is no safe cigarette.”

    (Don’t take my word for it: http://www.philipmorrisusa.com/en/health_issues/cigarette_smoking_and_disease.asp)

    Does that seem “soft” or “evasive”? And despite what is claimed above, the above statement by Philip Morris is absolutely admissible in court, and PMUSA absolutely can be held accountable for it.

    Without getting into the politics of Waxman’s report, the issue at trial isn’t whether or not smoking causes disease, or even whether or not the tobacco companies concede that it does (they do). It also isn’t about legalistic or potentially confusing statements made during trial. Judge Kessler is a seasoned Federal jurist; she’s been around the block a few times and she isn’t going to get fooled by this nonsense.

    The issue is whether or not Tobacco’s actions from the 1950s onwards constituted a conspiracy to commit fraud, whether or not there actually was fraud, and even more important, whether or not their actions today continue that alleged fraud.

    So is that highly visible public statement from Philip Morris fraudulent? Is it difficult to understand? Does it have a tendency to deceive? Is it possible to read what is coming from Philip Morris (not to mention what is written on every pack of cigarettes), and come away with any impression OTHER than that cigarettes are harmful? So what is tobacco doing wrong here? I just don’t get it.

    That Tobacco may resort to legalese during a trial in which they are a defendant should hardly come as a suprise to anyone, let alone to Senator Waxman. That’s what happens when your industry is accused of being the world’s biggest Mafia. So what? Tobacco hasn’t even started to present its side of the story yet. Where that quote from B&W came from? Its totally removed from any context whatever above. Did it even come from B&W or did it come from one of the DOJ lawyers?

    Unless you believe that the tobacco industry is lying in court AND that the public at large relies on this court testimony for their information about the risks of smoking, I don’t see how this is relevant to fraud.

  4. krueger Says:

    That’s not the point of the report.

    The point of the report: the public image the industry projects doesn’t square with the reality of what the industry says in court.

    The image: a new tobacco industry, reformed, open, honest.

    The reality: denial, evasion, much the same as this industry has done for 50 years.

    That’s the point of the report.

    My point: it’s easier for the industry to appear open and honest when it gets to choose the questions and it’s not under oath. That’s the case on Philip Morris corporate website, so sure, it doesn’t seem evasive.

    But yes, it is soft. “Smoking” causes disease, not cigarettes, not Philip Morris product, used as intended. “Smokers” get disease, not customers. After one “cause” the language goes back to the softer “more likely to develop”. And so on.

    The American Council on Science and Health puts it this way:

    “When an industry has been lying for more than half a century, then announces it is going to tell the truth but only tells a fraction of the truth, the impact can be as bad as or worse than the original lie.”

    “Philip Morris wants you to believe that it is now open and candid, allowing customers to make fully informed decisions, but in reality they have cleverly muddied the waters further…”

    “Philip Morris was very careful not to give an overview of the horrors of cigarette-related disease in the United States. For example: nowhere did they mention the fact that cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, causally linked to one in every four deaths daily — one in every two premature deaths…”

    http://www.acsh.org/healthissues/newsID.461/healthissue_detail.asp

    http://www.acsh.org/news/newsID.276/news_detail.asp

    In sum:

    In public, the tobacco industry softpedals what its product does to its customers, and to those nearest its customer. It tells only a fraction of the truth. Yet it manages to sound open and honest, projecting an image of a new, reformed tobacco industry. It manages that because it doesn’t have to answer specific questions. When it does have to answer specific questions under oath, it sounds very different: evasion, denial, obfuscation, much like the tobacco industry for 50 years.

  5. tobacco observer Says:

    “The point of the report: the public image the industry projects doesn’t square with the reality of what the industry says in court. The image: a new tobacco industry, reformed, open, honest. The reality: denial, evasion, much the same as this industry has done for 50 years.”
    =================

    Brilliant. A gov’t commissioned report has discovered that statements made by defendants in a court of law tend to be more evasive than the statements made in their public relations pieces. Wow, I’m so glad my federal tax money is going to good use!

    =================
    But yes, it is soft. “Smoking” causes disease, not cigarettes, not Philip Morris product, used as intended. “Smokers” get disease, not customers. After one “cause” the language goes back to the softer “more likely to develop”. And so on.
    =================

    That’s not “soft”, that’s “accurate”. Smoking DOES cause disease (not cigarettes. . .which don’t exactly light themselves and throw the smoke down one’s throat). Smokers ARE more likely to get disease. . .even you would agree that there are many smokers who don’t.

    So your problem with Philip Morris is that they don’t scream bloody murder, is that it? If you needed to learn more about the risks of smoking, you could follow one of the numerous weblinks they have to other sites detailing them from their website. Is the surgeon general unbiased enough for you? It sure seems like no matter what tobacco does, its never enough.

    If they don’t make health statements. . .the anti-smokers say they are being evasive. If they do make health statements. . .the anti-smokers say they are lying. If they make clear, explicit health statements, the anti-smokers say they aren’t going far enough!

    I won’t bicker, but it simply isn’t tobacco’s role to point out every possible drawback of their product in graphic detail. They are not health authorities, and they SHOULD NOT be asked to do that. Not only is that expectation unrealistic, its inadviseable for all of the reasons listed above. Nobody should be asking tobacco for public health information. . .and nobody should be asking them to provide it. You want to force car companies to run ads showing whiplash injuries and flaming wrecks? Maybe every Budweiser ad should have a caption showing a cirrhotic liver and a car crash? There are plenty of organizations and health agencies whose job it is to publicize the risks associated with smoking. Even more ironic, a good bit of the budgets of these agencies comes from the taxes levied on cigarettes, which as you know, are the most highly taxed product in the United States. I believe said tobacco money was even used to fund Mr. Borio’s website for a while.

  6. krueger Says:

    OK, what are the facts without the soft language?

    This industry’s product is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States.

    This product kills one out of five Americans.

    This product kills half its best customers.

    This product kills the people closest to its customers.

    This product is engineered for addiction.

    These are a few facts this industry doesn’t mention on its website and its other public utterances.

    It prefers softer language. “Risks” and so on.

    Yet nothing stops it from telling the truth about itself and its products. It could do that any time it liked.

    It chooses instead to softpedal in its PR.

    And in court, it chooses denial and evasion.

    Its PR projects an image of a “new reformed tobacco industry” that’s open and honest.

    The reality is, the same old denial, evasion, obfuscation, and softpedaling of the facts.

    For 50 years this has been an industry that cannot tell the truth. It just can’t seem to speak the plain truth about itself, its marketing, its products, or what they do to its customers and the people closest to its customers.

    In this trial, and in its PR, this industry keeps keeps crying that it’s changed.

    But its statements in this trial are “the same old doublespeak”:
    http://tobaccofreekids.org/Script/DisplayPressRelease.php3?Display=543

    And that’s the point of the report. Not merely that it’s doublespeak, but that it’s the same old thing, the same sort of denial and evasion that we’ve heard for 50 years.

    Is this the “new, reformed” tobacco industry?

    Is this “open and honest”?

    Has the tobacco industry really changed?

    The only thing that has changed is its PR strategy:

    http://www.ash.org.uk/html/conduct/html/trustus.html#_16._Epilogue%E2%80%94Has_the

    http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/reports/philipmorris/

  7. Goadii Says:

    Krueger:

    You write:

    This industry’s product is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States.

    This product kills one out of five Americans.

    This product kills half its best customers.

    This product kills the people closest to its customers.

    This product is engineered for addiction.

    ————————

    Fair enough, but you forget to mention the countless levels of government that gorge themselves on taxes from tobacco sales. If you’re going to throw out numbers, then throw out all the numbers. Go into the financial statemtns of MO, RAI, Carolina Group, and others in the DOJ case and disclose the level of excise taxes pafind the sales volumes. Extrapolate from there to find the billions upon billions of $ that go to governments from tobacco, to include the MSA payments that are mis-used by nearly every state that was a signatory.

    If disgorgement is to be made, shouldn’t local, state, and the federal governments have to disgorge their ill-gotten taxes?

    And why does alcohol get a free pass? The refined sugar industry? Hostess cupcakes? Burger King whoppers?

    Bottom line is the FTC and other federal/state/local agencies are just as culpable as tobacco here, if any entity is truly to be held accountable.

    As a caveat, what is the DOJ going to have once the disgorgement is 100% thrown out over the course of the next 30-45 days? If DOJ wants $280 B, then file a criminal case. Don’t file what amounts to an anti-trust civil case and ask for backward-looking monetary disgorgement.

  8. krueger Says:

    > government taxes tobacco

    You bet. What would you like it to tax instead?

    Whose taxes would you like to raise so that America’s most lethal drug is cheap?

    > government should have to disgorge tobacco taxes

    Yes, and tobacco retailers should disgorge too: drugstores, convenience stores, supermarkets, liquor stores; they all made money on tobacco product. As did advertising agencies. Billboard firms. Magazines. TV. Movies. Tobacco farmers. Shipping firms. Paper manufacturers. So they should all disgorge. Right?

    Oh wait, they didn’t lie to the public. Cover up what they knew about the product. Engineer the product for addiction. Market it to kids. That distinction belongs to Big Tobacco alone. That’s why it’s on trial here.

    > why does alcohol get a free pass? The refined sugar industry? Hostess cupcakes? Burger King whoppers?

    They don’t get a free pass. They’re highly regulated. Unlike tobacco, which is specifically exempted from consumer product safety regulation.

    These products aren’t on trial because these products, used as intended, don’t hurt anyone. They’re actually good for you, in moderation.

    The vendors of these products didn’t lie to the public, cover up what they knew, engineer product for addiction, or market highly addictive slow poison to kids.

    These products don’t kill half their best customers.

    Three reasons why the vendors of these products aren’t on trial right now.

    Tobacco is unique: it’s the only consumer product that, used as intended, kills half its best customers.

    Comparing tobacco to fat is taken directly from tobacco industry PR. Oh, the slippery slope!

    What tobacco industry PR never mentions: tobacco is more comparable to other addictive drugs like heroin or cocaine. That’s a slippery slope the industry doesn’t like to talk about.

  9. Wes Moore Says:

    The government wants it both ways. They are only interested in the money. The money that they get from MSA payments is not going to health issues. They are putting it in their general funds to fund shortfalls in the state budgets. They can not raise the FET tax because if they do the MSA payments are decreased relative to the FET tax increase. The majoritiy of the price of a carton of cigarettes is taxes. If the cigarette industry ceased to exist, the American people would see a tax increase that they would go nuts over.

  10. Wes Moore Says:

    There is no one in their right minds that could ever think that inhaling a product into them can be good for you. Let’s start using common sense here. Anyone that smokes does it by choice. No one stick a gun up to their head and makes them smoke. It seems to me that there has been a total lack of common sense over the last 10 years and probably longer than that. I smoke and I try to be considerate of those that do not smoke. I made the choice. I am also in the tobacco business. Like any other business, if there is no demand for a product the product becomes not existent. Let’s use some common sense, be honest and admit that smoking can not be good for you and that the government does not want smoking stopped.

  11. krueger Says:

    “The government…are only interested in the money. The money that they get from MSA payments”

    MSA payments go to the states, as a result of the states’ suit.

    This is a federal suit. Entirely separate from state ligitation, MSA money, etc.

    “If the cigarette industry ceased to exist, the American people would see a tax increase that they would go nuts over.”

    Killing millions of people with highly addictive slow poison is OK if it can be used to lower taxes; an interesting argument.

    And yet not a new one. The tobacco industry sees a payoff when its product kills its customer, and thinks it’s a good thing:
    http://tobaccofreekids.org/reports/philipmorris/#czech

  12. Berta-Isabel Cuadrado Alvarez Says:

    Is it a real trial against tobacco companies or only for tobacco activists to be quieter?

    If this Government is so worried about tobacco problems, why hasn’t it ratified WHO FCTC yet?

    Please, do it!!

    Berta-Isabel
    Non Smokers Club
    www.goodrelationssl.com

  13. Goadii Says:

    Anybody care to speculate as to when the DC Court of Appeals will rule on disgorgement, now that we are approaching the Holiday Recess period?

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