an amazing twist

February 24, 2005 9:39 pm by krueger

According to AP reports:…

Philip Morris argued today in court that even though it was publicly denying or questioning whether its product was addictive well into the 1980s, that was reasonable, citing as support that the Surgeon General reports didn’t say addictive until 1988.

Here’s what Philip Morris doesn’t mention. As Joe Califano, former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, puts it: “Had we known then what the tobacco companies knew, and had we been privy to their research on the addictive nature of nicotine, the 1979 Surgeon General’s report would have found cigarettes addictive.”

Think about that: the industry today argued in essence that the delay from 1979 to 1988 is evidence it didn’t commit fraud. But once you know the reason, that could just as well be taken as further evidence of fraud.

That’s kind of how Califano sees it: “Unfortunately, the president of the United States, the Secretary of HEW and the surgeon general were all victims of the concealment campaign of the tobacco companies.”

To spell it out a little more: in 1979 the industry privately knew better than anyone that the product was addictive. We know that now. But its coverup of what it knew at the time resulted in the inability of the scientific and medical specialists who wrote the Surgeon General’s report to definitively conclude “addictive” until 1988. Yet today this industry cited that delay as if it were evidence that industry public denials of addiction through the 1980s were reasonable!

An amazing twist.

Between 1979 and today, millions of Americans died from this product, almost all of them addicted. Meanwhile this industry played word games with “addictive” in public, and in private figured out how to engineer the product for addiction. Its coverup of what it knew about nicotine and addiction got a major public health report to stop short of saying the product was addictive in 1979. Today this industry pretends that means its decades of public denial of addiction were perfectly reasonable. I’d say what it means is its coverup was effective. And helped cut short millions of lives.

5 Responses to “an amazing twist”

  1. observer Says:

    has the doj, califano or anyone else identified what specific information the companies had regarding addiction (and causation) that was not available to the scientific community?

  2. tobacco observer Says:

    Ah yes, the infamous Joe Califano. Did you know he used to smoke four-packs-a-day well into his 30s before he turned into America’s most rabid anti-smoker? So it seems a little odd that he claims he wasn’t aware that smoking was “addictive” in 1979!

    Anyway, his political grandstanding is interesting, but his thesis is incorrect. Tobacco might be able to control its own in-house scientists, but it certainly can’t prevent other researchers from doing or publishing any research they wanted to. Nothing stopped Califano from calling cigarettes “addictive” in 1979, or at any other time. . .other than his own lack of chutzpah. The “addiction” argument is simply a matter of semantics, nothing more.

    Tobacco suddenly became “addictive” in 1988 because the Surgeon general decided to use a different, more recent, and then more controversial definition of “addiction”. That had nothing to do with what the tobacco industry did or didn’t know in “secret” research. If you define addiction one way, cigarettes are addictive. Define it another way, they aren’t.

    Prior to ‘88 in order for a substance to be “addictive” it had to be consciousness-altering. . .it had to get you “high”. After 1988, it just had to be self-administered by rats. So under the new definition, nicotine is “addictive”. . .and so is caffiene. The standards have opened up so much since then that there is now interesting and legitimate scientific debate on whether or not chocolate is “addictive”! On the other hand, marijuana (which was addictive prior to ‘88) probably isn’t addictive anymore under the new defintion.

    The point is, apart from the semantics, the lay public has known that tobacco is habit-forming for DECADES. There are references to that tendency from the Saturday Evening post going back to the 19th century, and even further. The idea that people who start smoking often have problems stopping is hardly anything new, and charges that somehow tobacco managed to “hide the truth” are disengenuous, to say the least.

  3. krueger Says:

    Where have I heard this argument before? The definitional game? Oh yes; the tobacco industry. In public it plays the word game very well; it’s “addictive” but only “as the word is commonly used”; it’s addictive but only if everything is addictive; and so on.

    Unfortunately, the reality is not a word game. It’s the fact that a higher percentage of users successfully quit cocaine and heroin than tobacco product. It’s the fact that most tobacco product customers don’t want to use the product. And it’s the fact that the this industry engineers its product for addiction — and hid that from the customer, the public, and the scientific community.

    The industry doesn’t play the definitional game in private. In private, the industry used “addictive” decades ago:

    “Moreover, nicotine is addictive. We are, then, in the business of selling nicotine, an addictive drug” Brown & Williamson general counsel Addison Yeaman in a memo dated July 17, 1963. Yeaman and other executives decided to withhold their company’s findings on the addictiveness of nicotine from Surgeon General Luther Terry, who was then preparing the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s report.

    In public, the industry continued to deny, delay, stonewall, and play word games for decades. In private it knew the product was addictive. It was engineering it to make sure.

  4. tobacco observer Says:

    “Moreover, nicotine is addictive. We are, then, in the business of selling nicotine, an addictive drug” Brown & Williamson general counsel Addison Yeaman in a memo dated July 17, 1963. Yeaman and other executives decided to withhold their company’s findings on the addictiveness of nicotine from Surgeon General Luther Terry, who was then preparing the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s report.

    So a B&W lawyer used the word “addictive” in 1963. So what? What’s the context of that excerpt? Did the others believe this or did they think the concept was ridiculous? What did they do in response to it?

    That quote certainly doesn’t prove a conspiracy, nor does it prove that there was any kind of industry consensus on the issue of addiction. Nor does it in ANY WAY invalidate the semantical confusion surrounding that term. Just because a few B&W executives thought smoking is “addictive”, that doesn’t mean RJR thought so, or Philip Morris. Even if that could be proven (which it can’t), by itself it certainly isn’t a RICO violation either.

    If there is any RICO violation here, its previous *LYING* about addiction; not merely knowing about it. However, since now every tobacco company publically concedes that tobacco is addictive, there can be no further violation on that front. Its too late for tobacco to “take it back” now that its on their websites, on TV, on the radio etc. If they denied it in the past, they aren’t denying it any more.

    No reasonable possibility of further violations on this score means no liability under RICO 1964(a), which has finally been correctly interpreted as a statute designed solely to seperate the Racketeerer from his ability to continue racketeering by both the DCCA and Judge Kessler.

    By the way, as a side issue, there is nothing instrinsically wrong with making cigarettes more “addictive” (ie more enjoyable to smoke). That’s the whole point of them! Coffee is addictive too, and so is chocolate. If you think cigarettes are so dangerous that adults shouldn’t be allowed to choose to smoke them, then have them banned! But its a bit hypocritical to villify the industry for selling a legal, highly taxed, highly regulated product, that carries highly publicized ubiquitous health warnings, and then claim that somehow they “hid” the dangers of smoking!

    My GOSH! Cigarettes are HABIT-FORMING? Who knew! How DARE the tobacco companies keep this a SECRET in the 1960s!

    1845: US PRESIDENT JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, personal correpondence:

    “In my youth I was ADDICTED to tobacco in two of its mysteries, smoking and chewing. I was warned by a medical friend about the pernicious operation of this habit against the stomach and nerves. . .” [etc]

    1853: Tobacco temperance group
    “. . .The slave of tobacco is seldom found reclaimable. I know full well the difficulty of reclaiming the drunkard, but the tobacco drunkard is still less hopeful. . .”

    1880: New York Times:
    “It is rare to find a person who is over fond of spirits who is not ADDICTED to tobacco”

    1883: New York Times:
    “Cigarettes were at first regarded as an exlusively Turkish product, and ADDICTION to them was accounted as mark of personal distinction”

    1908: Beaumont Texas journal (obituary)
    “. . .dropped dead yesterday in the street. He was ADDICTED to the cigarette habit”.

    1920 Good Health magazine in response to a recent denunciation of smoking by the then Surgeon General:
    “Surgeon [GENERAL] Cummings is absolutely right in his attitude towards smoking by women. . . and he ought to have support. . .everywhere. . .on his attempt to stem the rising tide of drug ADDICTION which is rising higher and higher, etc”

    1921: H. Kress, MD, Washington DC:
    “cigarette ADDICTION is purely a drug ADDICTION and the victim is about as helpless as the victim of opium. . .”

    I could go on, but I think the point has been made. The Tobacco companies were SO successful in hiding the risks of “addiction” that there were articles about it in the New York Times going back before the inception of those tobacco companies!

  5. krueger Says:

    “since now every tobacco company publically concedes that tobacco is addictive”

    Again, I wish that were true.

    In this very trial, four out of five tobacco companies do NOT concede that tobacco is addictive.

    For instance, in this trial Lorillard says: “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.”

    The other tobacco companies by turns dodge the question, play word games, and so on.

    But in private, the industry doesn’t have insufficient information, it doesn’t dodge the question, it doesn’t play word games: it says right out: the product is addictive.

    In private the industry shows it knows exactly how to get the customer chemically dependent on the product, how to engineer highly addictive product for this purpose.

    In public the industry pretends it never heard of this. It dodges the question. It engages in waffling, stonewalling, obfuscation, and outright coverup of the truth.

    And this is a basic problem: this is an industry that cannot tell the truth.

    If this industry would say in public what it says in private, then we could have a reasonable discussion on history and semantics.

    But as long as this industry continues to deny in public what it has acknowledged for years in private, that discussion is moot.

    We’re still on the question, when will this industry just plain tell the truth?

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