The Cigarette/ Tobacco Controversy

The Cigarette Controversy

K. Michael CummingsAnthony Brown and Richard O'Connor


This study examines the history of the cigarette controversy using the tobacco documents as a roadmap to explore the following four questions: (a) What did tobacco companies know about the health risks of smoking and when did they know it? (b) What evidence is there that tobacco companies conspired to deliberately mislead the public about the health risks of smoking? (c) How were scientists involved in the cigarette controversy? (d) Have tobacco companies changed the way they do business since signing the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement? The tobacco companies knew and for most part accepted the evidence that cigarette smoking was a cause of cancer by the late 1950s. The documents also reveal that the tobacco companies helped manufacture the smoking controversy by funding scientific research that was intended to obfuscate and prolong the debate about smoking and health. Today, the tobacco companies acknowledge that smoking is a cause of disease, but they have not materially altered the way they do business. In our opinion, it is not sufficient for the tobacco industry to merely concede the obvious point that smoking is a cause of disease when it is evident that decades of misinformation has resulted in a public that is massively ignorant about the risks of smoking low-tar cigarettes, nicotine addiction, and secondhand smoke exposure. Public education efforts are still needed to correct these misperceptions along with government oversight to ensure that the industry is not permitted to mislead the public further. If the past 50 years have taught us anything, it is that the tobacco industry cannot be trusted to put the public's interest above their profits no matter what they say. (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2007;16(6):1070–6)

When Doctors, and Even Santa, Endorsed Tobacco


In the 1930s and 1940s, smoking became the norm for both men and women in the United States, and a majority of physicians smoked. At the same time, there was rising public anxiety about the health risks of cigarette smoking. One strategic response of tobacco companies was to devise advertising referring directly to physicians. As ad campaigns featuring physicians developed through the early 1950s, tobacco executives used the doctor image to assure the consumer that their respective brands were safe.
These advertisements also suggested that the individual physicians’ clinical judgment should continue to be the arbiter of the harms of cigarette smoking even as systematic health evidence accumulated. However, by 1954, industry strategists deemed physician images in advertisements no longer credible in the face of growing public concern about the health evidence implicating cigarettes.

Throwback Thursday: When Doctors Prescribed ‘Healthy’ Cigarette Brands