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.