Carcinogens in cigarettes, 1961

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

This 1961 confidential Philip Morris (PM) Research and Development Department document written by Helmut Wakeham, the head of PM's R & D department, acknowledges the existence of such chemicals in cigarette smoke as arsenic, benzene, toluene, acetone, methanol, phenols, formic acid, napthalene and others. A list on page 9 of the document (Bates Page 2024947813) is entitled "Partial List of Compounds in Cigarette Smoke Also Identified as Carcinogens." It lists approximately 42 compounds. A section entitled "Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease" (Page 13, Bates Page No.2024947187) gives a general discussion of the means through which nicotine affects the brain, nervous and cardiovascular systems. The next page is entitled, "R&D Program Leading to a Medically Acceptable Cigarette." It lists three means through which PM could produce a safer cigarette. Method III lists "Reduction of the General Level of Carcinogenic Substances in Smoke (but without Complete Elimination of More than a Few Specific Compounds.)" Wakeham estimated the cost for this option at $10,000,000 and the time to achieve it at 7-10 years. Further discussion of eliminating carcinogens in smoke states, "To achieve this objective will require a major research effort because, 1. Carcinogens are found in practically every class of compounds in smoke. This fact prohibits complete solution of the problem by eliminating one or two classes of compounds. The best we can hope for is to reduce a particularly bad class, i.e,, the polynuclear hydrocarbons, or phenols ..."

An interesting chart with a drawing of a big cigarette at the beginning of the document shows far higher quantities of the dangerous chemicals listed in the report exist in the gas phase in secondhand ("sidestream") smoke than in mainstream smoke.

Also of note is Wakeham's statement that smokers develop a tolerance to nicotine with continued usage (Page 13 of the document, Bates Page No. 2024947187). The tobacco companies have long publicly denied that people develop tolerance to nicotine (increasing use), while privately acknowledging that young smokers are a boon to the company because as they age, they increase the amount per day that they smoke (tolerance).

This document shows that Philip Morris recognized fully by 1961 that their products were dangerous to consumers.[1]


  1. Helmut Wakeham, Philip Morris Smoking and Health - R&D Approach Presentation/speech. November 15, 1961. 25 pp. Bates No. 2024947172/7196

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