Florida Record

Monday, September 23, 2019

Cigarette historian says tobacco industry subverted knowledge to sell cigarettes


By John Sammon | Feb 14, 2019

MIAMI – A Stanford University professor of history on the tobacco industry on Wednesday portrayed cigarette makers bent on covering up emerging scientific knowledge and deceiving the public about the dangers of smoking so that companies like Philip Morris could continue making profits.

“They sold ignorance to keep people in the dark about the true dangers of cigarettes,” Robert Proctor, a professor of science history told a jury.

Proctor was called as a witness by Eric Rosen, attorney for the family of Ulysee Holliman in its lawsuit against cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris.

The trial at Dade County Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.

The case is to decide if Holliman, who died in 1993 of lung cancer, should be allowed to join a class action suit against tobacco companies filed in Florida in 1994 and if Holliman’s family should be awarded damages.

Proctor outlined the history of cigarette smoking from 1900 when the practice was virtually unknown, only a few rich well-to-do people smoked hand-rolled cigarettes (most smoked cigars or used chewing tobacco).

The big breakthrough in cigarette smoking Proctor said came with the development of new curing techniques which made cigarettes easier to inhale and rolling machines that could turn out thousands of cigarettes per day rather than a few hundred hand-rolled smokes.

“Tobacco has to be cured,” Proctor explained. “You heat a tobacco leaf and trap the sugars; that makes it mild enough to inhale but it also makes it far more hazardous.”

Proctor called the growth of cigarette smoking an “epidemic.”

The smoking of cigarettes went from virtually non existent in 1900 to 630 billion in 1982 and 240 billion today.

“They (tobacco industry) created this (growth in smoking) through mass production and deception,” Proctor said.

From the 1950s on, the tobacco industry launched a massive advertising campaign to portray smoking as sexy, glamorous, even healthful, using Hollywood stars such as John Wayne and Lucille Ball smoking on television.

“Four of the top five products on billboards were cigarettes,” Proctor said.

In the face of developing scientific information that cigarettes were suspected of causing lung cancer, a meeting of top tobacco company executives was held in New York’s Plaza Hotel in 1953. Proctor said the meeting was to coordinate efforts to subvert the truth and deny evidence. 

“They (tobacco industry) decided to create their own research organization whose real purpose was to blame anything but cigarettes,” Proctor said.   

A report by the U.S. Surgeon General in 1964 identified cigarettes as a cause of lung cancer.

“Did they (tobacco industry) support the Surgeon General’s report?” Rosen asked.

“No,” Proctor said, “they criticized the Surgeon General.”

Proctor said industry officials designed their disinformation campaign to prevent smokers from getting a “guilty fear” about smoking. Despite the Surgeon General report, after a brief dip in sales cigarette smoking continued to grow.

By the early 1970s Proctor said tobacco officials had noted young people described in internal documents as the “youth market,” aged 14 to 24, a desirable target market for the sale of cigarettes.

Rosen exhibited a television advertisement featuring the Marlboro Man, a cowboy portrayed as a heroic, free and clean-living character seen smoking cigarettes and riding a horse on the open range. Marlboro had started out as a woman’s cigarette but marketers began appealing to men to smoke it starting in the 1970s.

“These were powerful, breathtakingly extensive ads,” Proctor said.

After television ads were withdrawn over cancer concerns Proctor said industry officials made a “smooth transition” to other forms of advertising, on billboards and sponsoring sporting events like the Formula 1 car racing event.

Proctor said tobacco officials adopted different strategies to combat the growing body of evidence of the health risks including the destroying of incriminating documents, elimination of passages in documents called a “donut,” and shipping documents overseas to countries like Germany where they would be less likely to be discovered.

“Smuggling and leaks about this information started coming out in the 1990s,” he said.

Advertisements on television showed viewers how to properly inhale a cigarette to deliver smoke deep into the lungs.

“This caused the addiction,” Proctor said. “It made it easier for the nicotine to go to the brain.”

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