Tobacco (53) Q3. What is the role of the tobacco industry? (3) The Perils of Ignoring History

13 March, 2023

The tobacco industry has a playbook, a script, that emphasizes personal responsibility, paying scientists who delivered research that instilled doubt, criticizing science, as “junk science ”, when it was found the harm associated with smoking, making self-regulatory pledges, lobbying with massive resources to stifle government action, introducing “safer” products, and simultaneously manipulating and denying both the addictive nature of their products and their marketing to children

In 1954, the major US tobacco industries working closely with John Hill, the founder of the public relations giant Hill & Knowlton, created “A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers” and said that “we accept an interest in people's health as a basic responsibility, paramount to every other consideration in our business.” They also promised that “we always have and always will cooperate closely with those whose task it is to safeguard the public's health”.

The “Frank Statement” was a charade, the first step in a concerted, half-century-long campaign to mislead Americans about the catastrophic effects of smoking and to avoid public policy that might damage sales. (1)

Here we are sharing a summary of the Tobacco Industry’s history of lies. (2)

1958-68: THE LIE: The TI claimed smoking is not harmful and nicotine is not addictive.

THE COVER-UP: They suppressed evidence that cigarettes are highly addictive, marketing the product as safe.

1978: THE LIE: The tobacco industry stated smoking is not linked to cancer.

THE COVER-UP: Claimed that there was insufficient evidence that toxic components in smoke are harmful to smokers.

1988: THE LIE: TI denied the harmful effects of SHS.

THE COVER-UP: “Independent” scientists were hired to support industry studies and question Smoke-Free policies.

1998: THE LIE: TI claimed that their Youth Prevention Programmes were successful

THE COVER-UP: Youth Prevention Programmes only enacted to garner positive feelings for cigarette companies.

2000s: THE LIE: “Light” and “mild” cigarettes are developed and marketed as safer as regular cigarettes.

THE COVER-UP: designed these cigarettes to give falsely low readings on tar and nicotine, when tested by a smoking machine.

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry for violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

In 2006, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that tobacco companies were guilty of breaking civil racketeering laws, marketing to children and minority populations, and lying to the public about the dangers of smoking.

“Substantial evidence establishes that [tobacco companies] have engaged in and executed – and continue to engage in and execute – a massive 50-year scheme to defraud the public…” – Judge Gladys Kessler, in the 2006 ruling (3)

Overall, the tobacco industry's history of deception and misleading marketing practices has had a devastating impact on public health. Millions of people around the world have died as a result of tobacco-related illnesses, and countless others continue to suffer from the effects of tobacco use.

Governments and public health organizations mustn't forget this history of systematic lies and continue to fight against the tobacco industry's deceptive practices and work to reduce tobacco use and exposure in all forms.


1. Brownell KD, Warner KE. The perils of ignoring history: Big Tobacco played dirty and millions died. How similar is Big Food? Milbank Q. 2009 Mar;87(1):259-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0009.2009.00555.x. PMID: 19298423; PMCID: PMC2879177.



Dr. Eduardo Bianco

Director, International Policy Education



HIFA profile: Eduardo Bianco is a medical doctor and Cardiologist, Certified Tobacco Cessation Expert with a Master’s in Prevention and Treatment of Addictive Disorders. Currently, he is Chair of the World Heart Federation Tobacco Expert Group. Dr. Bianco’s research examines tobacco control and cessation, and he is a prominent member of several organizations that address tobacco control in Latin America. Dr. Bianco has worked for 25 years in Uruguay and Latin America to promote and train in smoking cessation treatment and tobacco control policies. He is also the former Regional Coordinator for the Americas of the Framework Convention Alliance and former Technical Director of the MOH Center for International Cooperation for Tobacco. He is a member of the HIFA working group on substance use disorders. Email: ebianco AT