The tobacco industry
engaged in aggressive intelligence gathering to combat anti-smoking groups -- including
the use of intermediaries to obtain materials under false pretenses, sending public
relations spies to public health organization meetings, and covertly taping strategy
sessions, according to an analysis of internal tobacco industry documents by Ruth E.
Malone, assistant professor of social and behavior sciences in the UCSF School of Nursing.
The analysis appears in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
Malone's research shows that, beginning with the inception of STAT (Stop Teenage
Addiction to Tobacco) in 1985 and continuing through the mid 1990s, RJ Reynolds and Philip
Morris used public relations agencies and private consultants to closely monitor the
activities of STAT and INFACT (formerly the Infant Formula Action Coalition). Both groups,
referred to as "anti's" in the documents, were active in drawing public and
media attention to tobacco industry behaviors.
"Although it is not uncommon for companies to gather intelligence about
competitors, it is surprising to see aggressive activities aimed at obstructing the
efforts of public health groups," said Ruth E. Malone.
According to industry documents, a Tobacco Institute (TI) plan, proposed in 1988,
emphasized the goal of "[keeping] the Institute in the driver's seat" by gaining
"knowledge of anti-smoking announcements before the fact," according to the
analysis of the documents. Documents show that tobacco companies kept secret lists of
control advocates and researchers and sought to use intelligence to try to discredit them.
A 1989 INFOTAB (the Industry's international intelligence and research agency) report, A
Guide for Dealing with Anti-Tobacco Pressure Groups, advised executives to "discredit
the often imported activists of the [tobacco control] coalition - ideally through third
The Fleishman Hillard public relations agency sent regular intelligence reports to RJ
Reynolds, including copies of STAT's Tobacco and Youth Reporter. According to industry
documents, the Burson-Marsteller agency assured Philip Morris executives that they could
conduct research on INFACT "without any mention of the [tobacco industry]
client," using "third parties," to anonymously obtain information. The
documents also reveal that one Fleishamn Hillard representative (and possibly others)
secretly tape recorded sessions of a 1992 STAT meeting, said Malone. "The tobacco
industry spy's report clearly discusses how difficult it was to keep the tape recorder
hidden. In addition to violating the rules of the meeting, this taping also violated
Massachusetts state law and the code of ethics for business intelligence
professionals," she said.
In a related paper in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health,
Stanton Glantz, PhD, UCSF professor of medicine and a faculty member in the UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, concludes from an examination of tobacco industry documents
that the industry's youth smoking prevention programs are not effective and often are
counterproductive, doing more harm than good for tobacco control.
Malone's research was supported by the California Tobacco-Related Disease Research
Program and the National Cancer Institute.