Council for Tobacco Research

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

The precursor to the Council for Tobacco Research was created by the tobacco industry in January 1954, mainly through the efforts of Philip Morris, following the infamous Frank Statement formulate at the Plaza Hotel meeting in New York by the companies in 1953. It was then known as the Tobacco Industry Research Committee and promoted as an attempt to find alternative reasons why tobacco smokers frequently got lung cancer (other than the obvious) but it operated mainly as a propaganda generator, giving grants to friendly scientists who knew which side of the bread was to be buttered. It spent a lot of money on advertising and very little on actual scientific studies, and it closed down in 1999 following the Master Settlement Agreement between the companies, the Clinton Administration and the States Attorneys-General.

The original name of Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC), changed (with a internal restructure) exactly ten years later to the Council for Tobacco Research in January 1964. It always claimed that its mission was to find out whether smoking was dangerous, and if so, "the next job tackled will be to determine how to eliminate the danger from tobacco." This became known as the 'Safe' or 'Safer Cigarette' program (until abandoned because it proved impossible). [1]

Tobacco Institute
Tobacco Industry Research Committee
Key documents: TIRC/CTR (Doc Index)

Scientific Independence

It maintained that it had a 'hands-off' policy about research and did not conduct research itself. It was dedicated to providing "Grants-in-aid to independent scientists selected by a Scientific Advisor Board which ensures that those receiving the grants are

...'assured complete scientific freedom in conducting their research"
Neither the Advisory Board nor the Tobacco Industry Research Committee makes any effort to direct the administration of a research project or to influence its course."

This was partly true, but generally misleading: (a) They didn't need to interfere with the research if they selected only scientists who were friendly to the industry and addicted to receiving on-going grant support. (b) They didn't need to direct the administration of most grants because they were intended to produce propaganda rather than genuine biomedical results. (c) Some genuine research was done secretly via "Special Project" grants handled by corporate lawyers, rather than passed though the Scientific Advisory Board. If it was against the industry's interest, it never saw the light of day.

At the time of the name change to CTR Addison Yeamans the General Counsel of Brown & Williamson said that they had ... "difficulty in justifying a budget increases [because] we're trying to prove a negative. [But the] CTR is best and cheapest insurance the tobacco industry can buy, and without it the industry would have to invent CTR or it would be dead." [2] The Chairman of the Tobacco Institute, writing to his counterpart in the UK, said ''While ... we accept an interest in people's health as a basic responsibility, paramount to every other consideration in our business. we owe it not only to ourselves but to the smoking public to avoid making radical changes in tobacco products merely as gestures of good faith, or in response to current discoveries." [3]

According to a tobacco industry memo titled "The Roper Proposal", written in 1972 by Fred Panzer of the Tobacco Institute, the CTR actually worked at "promoting cigarettes and protecting them from these and other attacks," by "creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it, and advocating the public's right to smoke, without actually urging them to take up the practice." United States Judge Hadden Lee Sarokin, who presided over two New Jersey tobacco cases, described TIRC/CTR in 1988 as "nothing but a hoax created for public relations purposes with no intention of seeking the truth or publishing it." CTR's work was described by the Wall Street Journal in 1993 as "the longest-running misinformation campaign in US business history."[2]


TIRC's first scientific director was Dr. Clarence Cook Little, who worked for TIRC/CTR from 1954 to 1971, the year of his death. Little began as chairman of TIRC's Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). He assumed the title of "scientific director" in 1959. Upon his death, Robert Casad Hockett became CTR's acting scientific director. In 1973, Hockett was succeeded by William Ullman Gardner, followed by Sheldon Charles Sommers in 1981, James Francis Glenn in 1988, and Harmon Carlyle McAllister, Jr. in 1991.

In January 1971, Henry H. Ramm became CTR's chairman and president. Ramm had previously worked for 24 years for R.J. Reynolds Industries as an attorney and later as senior vice president and chairman of the executive committee. Ramm was succeeded on August 1, 1975 by Addison Yeaman, a former executive of the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, where he had worked for 36 years, serving as its general counsel and later as an executive vice president. Yeaman retired on December 31, 1980 and was replaced by William D. Hobbs, a 44-year tobacco industry veteran who had served as chairman, president and CEO of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. before moving up to become executive vice president of its parent firm, R.J. Reynolds Industries, Inc.

Upon Hobbs' retirement in 1991, scientific director James Francis Glenn stepped into the post of chairman and CEO, assuming the additional title of President in 1993. A urologist and former dean of the Emory and Mount Sinai medical schools, Glenn first became involved with the CTR as a member of its scientific advisory board in the 1980s. As chairman and CEO, he earned an annual salary of $350,000. In a 1998 deposition, Glenn admitted that he himself had never personally studied the relationship between smoking and health, although he had once overseen "research into the beneficial function of nicotine on the smooth muscle of the urinary tract."

Leonard S. Zahn served as CTR's public relations consultant, beginning in 1955 as an account executive and later as a vice president at Hill & Knowlton. In 1979, Zahn took the CTR account with him when he resigned from H&K to start his own PR firm, Leonard Zahn & Associates, Inc. He continued to represent CTR until his retirement in 1994. Zahn played a dual role as both PR man and "journalist," writing occasional pieces on non-tobacco topics for medical publications such as Selecta, a German weekly medical magazine, and the New York-based Medical Tribune. In 1961, he joined the National Association of Science Writers and quickly became an active volunteer, serving on its executive committee and editing its quarterly newsletter. These contacts enabled him to befriend journalists and occasionally to steer them away from writing potentially damaging stories about tobacco.

Much of Zahn's work, however, was devoted to spying on the medical and scientific community. He attended a dozen or more scientific meetings each year in the U.S. and abroad, writing reports back to the CTR to provide them with "advance information about what will be reported by whom." In one memo to the CTR, he boasted that his credentials as a journalist gave him "access to the pressrooms where I can obtain materials and information denied to others at the meeting."

Other significant CTR employees included William Thomas Hoyt, who worked with TIRC/CTR from its establishment in 1954 until the 1980s; and Robert F. Gertenbach, an attorney and accountant who held titles including secretary, executive vice president and president.

Research decisions for the CTR were ostensibly made by a "Scientific Advisory Board" (SAB) comprised of eminent scientists. In practice, however, many of the CTR's research decisions were made by tobacco industry lawyers. SAB members over the years included Leo Abood, Howard Bancroft Andervont, Barry G. Arnason, Richard J. Bing, Roswell K. Boutwell, Drummond H. Bowden, Michael J. Brennan, McKeen Cattell, Julius H. Comroe, Jr., John E. Craighead, Carlo M. Croce, Raymond L. Erikson, Joseph D. Feldman, William Ullman Gardner, Gordon N. Gill, Peter M. Howley, Robert Joseph Huebner, Leon Orris Jacobson, Wolfgang K. Joklik, Manfred L. Karnovsky, Paul Kotin,Averill A. Liebow, Clarence Cook Little, Clayton G. Loosli, Henry T. Lynch, Kenneth Merrill Lynch, Harmon C. McAllister, Jr., Hugh O'Neill McDevitt, Hans Meier, Gordon Barry Pierce, Jr., Stanley Philip Reimann, William Francis Reinhoff, Jr., David D. Sabatini, Gordon H. Sato, Sheldon Charles Sommers, Peter J. Vogt, Lee W. Wattenberg, Edwin B. Wilson, and John P. Wyatt.

Many members of the SAB were actually respected scientists, and privately many of them disagreed with the tobacco industry's party line. In 1987, Dr. Kenneth E. Warner polled the SAB's 13 current members, asking, "Do you believe that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer?" Seven of the SAB members refused to answer the question, even after Warner promised individual anonymity. The other six all answered in the affirmative. "I don't think there's a guy on the [Board] who doesn't believe that cigarette smoking contributes to an increased risk of lung cancer," one said, adding that the SAB's members were "terrified" to say so publicly out of fear of involvement in tobacco product liability lawsuits.[3]


In the early 1950s, the first scientific studies documenting tobacco's role in cancer and other fatal illnesses began to appear. Reader's Digest ran an influential 1952 article titled, "Cancer by the Carton." A 1953 report by Dr. Ernst L. Wynder heralded to the scientific community a definitive link between cigarette smoking and cancer. Over the next two years, dozens of articles appeared in the New York Times and other major public publications: Good Housekeeping, the New Yorker, Look, Woman's Home Companion. Sales of cigarettes went into an unusual, sudden decline.

These reports put the tobacco industry in a panic. Internal memos from the industry-funded Tobacco Institute refer to the public relations fallout from this scientific discovery as the "1954 emergency." Fighting desperately for its economic life, the tobacco industry launched what must be considered the costliest, longest-running and most successful PR "crisis management" campaign in history. The Council for Tobacco Research "was set up as an industry 'shield' in 1954," wrote an unnamed Philip Morris executive in a memo. "It is extremely important to show that the industry continue to spend their dollars on research to show that we don't agree that the case against smoking is closed."

For help, the tobacco industry turned to John W. Hill, the founder of the PR megafirm, Hill & Knowlton. Hill designed a brilliant and expensive campaign that the tobacco industry is still using today in its fight to save itself from public rejection and governmental action. Hill is remembered today within the PR community as a shrewd but ethical businessman. In a letter, he once stated, "It is not the work of public relations ... to outsmart the American public by helping management build profits." Yet Hill's work to save tobacco in the 1950s is an egregious example of "outsmarting the American public ... to build profits." The company's role was described as follows in a 1993 lawsuit, State of Mississippi vs. the Tobacco Cartel:

As a result of these efforts, the Tobacco Institute Research Committee (TIRC), an entity later known as The Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), was formed.
The Tobacco Industry Research Committee immediately ran a full-page promotion in more than 400 newspapers aimed at an estimated 43 million Americans ... entitled "A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers." ... In this advertisement, the participating tobacco companies recognized their "special responsibility" to the public, and promised to learn the facts about smoking and health. The participating tobacco companies promised to sponsor independent research. .. The participating tobacco companies also promised to cooperate closely with public health officials. ...
After thus beginning to lull the public into a false sense of security concerning smoking and health, the Tobacco Industry Research Committee continued to act as a front for tobacco industry interests. Despite the initial public statements and posturing, and the repeated assertions that they were committed to full disclosure and vitally concerned, the TIRC did not make the public health a primary concern. ... In fact, there was a coordinated, industry-wide strategy designed actively to mislead and confuse the public about the true dangers associated with smoking cigarettes. Rather than work for the good of the public health as it had promised, and sponsor independent research, the tobacco companies and consultants, acting through the tobacco trade association, refuted, undermined, and neutralized information coming from the scientific and medical community.

TIRC hired Dr. Clarence Cook Little as its first director in 1954. Previously, Little had served as managing director of the American Society for the Control of Cancer, the forerunner to today's American Cancer Society. He believed in genetic susceptibility to cancer and discounted environmental influences such as tobacco smoke. This use of a respected figurehead worked its expected magic. Industry-funded opinion research in 1954 showed that only 9% of the newspapers expressing opinions on the TIRC were unfavorable, whereas 65% were favorable without reservation. "The case for and against tobacco consumption as a cause of cancer may be settled by the Tobacco Industry's Research Committee," wrote Waldemar Kaempffert of The New York Times, the so-called "dean of the country's scientific writers." Although "many will argue that an impartial investigation can hardly be expected from a body of experts paid by the tobacco industry," Kaempffert concluded that "Dr. Little is an eminent geneticist, a type of scientist who has the courage to face facts and to state them." [4]

Dr. Little became TIRC's primary spokesperson, delivering dozens of speeches and written statements laying out the industry's position and attacking the ever-mounting body of scientific evicence supporting the causal connection between smoking and human disease. In 1955, for example, Little appeared on Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now" television show. [5] He was asked: "Have any cancer-causing agents been identified in cigarettes?" Little replied: "No. None whatever, either in cigarettes or in any product of smoking, as such." [6] In an article written for the The Atlantic, he attacked "the American School of cigarette theorists," the American Cancer Society, and "ardent laymen and some already convinced scientists [attempting] to activate debate and controversy."[7]

In courtroom testimony in 1960, Little was obliged to describe TIRC's research agenda. He testified that TIRC had conducted no studies of tobacco smoke because it had never been proven to be carcinogenic. He viewed such a study a waste of time. Similarly, Little refused to conduct animal experimentation because he believed that such research was only relevant for animals, not human beings. Finally, TIRC did not sponsor epidemiological studies.

TIRC was renamed as the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR) in 1964, the same year that the first U.S. Surgeon General's report appeared on the links between smoking and disease. Its public relations and lobbying role was taken up by a newly established Tobacco Institute, which would eventually have a budget of about $20 million and a staff of 120 and would be acknowledged by Washington insiders as one of the most powerful lobbies in the country. Although CTR and the Tobacco Institute were formally separate, the two groups were complementary.

An 11/6/78 memorandum from Donald K. Hoel states that American Tobacco Company believes that Council for Tobacco Research (CTR) must be more politically-oriented and must find skeptical scientists. The memo states that staff at Council for Tobacco Research also needed to be more tobacco-oriented with a skeptical view. This document pertains not only to the Special Projects division, but also to the tobacco companies' intentional manipulation of the Council for Tobacco Research as a whole.(Judge H.L. Sarokin, Haines opinion 2/6/92. Haines documents in limine #01347203 et seq.)

In 1996, CTR established a secretive, lawyer-directed Special Projects division whose primary purpose was to develop research data that could be used to defend the industry in court. Publicly, the CTR continued to claim that its research was directed by its Scientific Advisory Board, which "meets regularly to evaluate applications for research support, judging them solely on the basis of scientific merit and relevance." Funding for "special projects," however, was allocated directly by tobacco industry lawyers rather than the SAB. Between 1972 and 1990, CTR awarded $14,636,918 in special project funding.

In its early years, TIRC/CTR funded research that purported to study the question of whether smoking causes cancer. Typically it paid for research designed to cast doubt on the link between smoking and cancer. Research projects attempted to show that both lung cancer and smoking were caused by some other "third factor," such as a person's psychological makeup, religion, war experiences or genetic susceptibility. One research project asked whether the handwriting of lung cancer patients can reveal characteristics associated with lung cancer. Another looked for enzyme markers predicting susceptibility to lung cancer. The CTR also tried unsuccessfully to find evidence of a cancer "threshold" -- a level of acceptable exposure to tobacco that did not not increase cancer risk.

As each of these research avenues failed in turn to produce results that would exonerate tobacco, the CTR turned away entirely from research projects that looked at the question of whether smoking causes disease. Instead, research went into extremely technical aspects of genetics or cellular mechanisms of cancer--areas that could be explored without looking at tobacco's role in causation. Many of its research grants had nothing at all to do with cancer or diseases of the heart and respiratory system -- the main tobacco-related killers. Instead, the CTR funded studies of cell biology, developmental biology, genetics, immunology, neuroscience, pharmacology and virology.

In 1997 Robert F. Gertenbach, who served as president of the Council for Tobacco Research from 1984 to 1992, was subpoenaed to testify in a landmark $5 billion lawsuit by flight attendants claiming they suffered illnesses due to smoky cabin air. On the witness stand, Gertenbach was unable to cite even one study on smoking and disease performed by the Council despite the fact that this was its publicly stated mission. Another CTR research director testified that he knew of no studies tracking the health of smokers in his 10-year tenure. James F. Glenn, the CTR's last president, made similar admissions in 1998. Subpoenaed to testify in the State of Minnesota's lawsuit against the tobacco industry, he admitted that in 1993, for example, only 10 of 296 studies funded by the CTR had anything to do with tobacco.

The Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute both quietly closed their doors in 1999, disbanding as part of the historic settlement between U.S. state attorney generals and the tobacco industry. In an obituary of sorts, Inside PR, a public relations industry trade publication, acknowledged that the two organizations had "served as a potent symbol of all that is wrong with public relations. To those who fear that corporate interests use a combination of sophisticated propaganda techniques and high-powered inside-the-beltway lobbying to manipulate both public opinion and public policy, the Tobacco Institute was their best proof, an example of the ways in which public relations can work against the public interest. Many PR people regarded the Tobacco Institute with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was an illustration of how powerful a tool PR can be -- for 40 years it helped the tobacco industry to avoid meaningful regulation, despite the overwhelming evidence against it and the frantic activity of consumer and health advocacy groups. On the other hand, it was an embarrassment. (For many PR pros, it came down to this: at the end of a long day, no matter what their clients had asked them to do, they could always tell themselves, 'At least I don't work for the Tobacco Institute.')"


In TIRC's first year of operation in 1954, it spent $948,151, of which one-fourth went to Hill & Knowlton, another fourth went to pay for media ads, and most of the remainder went to administrative costs. Despite TIRC's promise to "sponsor independent research," only $80,000, or less than 10% of the total budget for the year, actually went to scientific projects.

By 1970, the CTR's annual budget had reached $3 million, climbing to more than $10 million in the 1980s. In 1984, the tobacco industry boasted that it had spent $120 million on "research on smoking and health." It added that "the tobacco industry's commitment to this research area ... is second only to that of the federal government. It comes to many millions more than the combined support by such groups as the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and American Heart Association." (Since much of its funding by then had been allocated to non-tobacco research, this was actually a misleading boast.)

In 1997, the final year in which CTR published an annual report, it disbursed more than $20 million in research grants. Its annual report noted that it had given more than $302 million in "total financial assistance rendered to biomedical research programs since the initiation of the Council for Tobacco Research-USA in 1954," leading to "more than 6,400 scientific publications by investigators who received research grants from the CTR."

Case Study: "A Scientific Perspective on the Cigarette Controversy"

There is no question that the tobacco industry knew what scientists were learning about tobacco. The TIRC maintained a library with cross-indexed medical and scientific papers from 2,500 medical journals, as well as press clippings, government reports and other documents. TIRC employees culled this library for scientific data with inconclusive or contrary results regarding tobacco and the harm to human health. These were compiled in 1954 into a carefully selected 18-page booklet, titled "A Scientific Perspective on the Cigarette Controversy."

According to a May 3, 1954 memorandum from the Hill & Knowlton PR firm, 205,000 copies of the booklet were printed. It was sent to 176,800 doctors, members of Congress, and 15,000 members of the press. Hill & Knowlton boasted that the booklet resulted in favorable publicity in "hundreds of papers and radio stations throughout the country." The booklet contained quotations from three dozen research and medical authorities.

"A Scientific Perspective" provides a classic catalogue of the typical rationalizations used by tobacco manufacturers and many other industries when scientific evidence emerges showing that their products are harmful:

  • The evidence is still inconclusive. "A Scientific Perspective" quoted a British scientist who said that "many correlations of a comparable nature ... have in the end proved false. ... Let us be sure of our evidence before we scare the public."
  • Something other than smoking may be responsible. Doctors were quoted who speculated that the rise in lung cancer might be due to "air pollution," "vehicle exhaust fumes," "the increased aging of the population" and "improved diagnosis." One doctor speculated that "infectious diseases" might be responsible for lung cancer; another speculated that lung cancer might be increasing because of fewer infectious diseases: "The widespread use of antibiotics has resulted in fewer hospital admissions and fewer deaths from infectious diseases, and proportionately, more from malignancy."
  • Statistical evidence can't be trusted. "This whole question of cause and effect deducted on a statistical basis is subject to the greatest fallacies," argued Chicago cancer surgeon Max Cutler. "One way I like to emphasize it is to say that simply because one finds bullfrogs after a rain does not mean that it rained bullfrogs."
  • It's all a scare campaign. "Is it wise to scare the public and create widespread anxiety among millions of people on the flimsy evidence that has been presented?" Cutler asked. Another authority complained, "the moment the word cancer is mentioned to the public ... emotion is aroused and any calm objective view of the value of evidence presented becomes most difficult. It is important that the medical profession ... not make matters worse by merely joining in a cry and increasing the alarm." Another doctor decried "the loose, unscientific and irresponsible statements that are continuously appearing in newspapers and magazines."
  • The issue is too complicated, even for scientists. "If smoke in the lungs were a sure-fire cause of cancer, we'd all have it by now. The cause is much more complicated than that," said Clarence Cook Little.
  • Nit-picking at irrelevant details. One scientist complained about "the failure to separate data referable to these tumors in the white and Negro patient."
  • More research is necessary. "A great deal more research must be done before one can establish the etiology of lung cancer or, as a matter of fact, all cancer," said New York doctor Milton Rosenblatt.
  • Tests on animals don't apply to humans. "Pathologically lung cancer in mice resembles only remotely bronchogenic carcinoma in the human," Robenblatt said. "A Scientific Perspective" also quoted Dr. Jonathan Hartwell of the National Cancer Institute, who objected to "the attempt to carry over, without reservation, to man, conclusions based on animal experiments." Hartwell went so far as to say it would be "dangerous" to rely on animal tests as a guide to human carcinogenicity.

Contact Information

Prior to being disbanded, CTR's address was:
Council for Tobacco Research
900 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022

External links

  • "Council for Tobacco Research" documents. This website was established to provide easy public access to internal tobacco industry documents released as part of the 1998 attorney generals' settlement with the tobacco industry. It contains hundreds of thousands of pages of internal documents from the CTR's files (as well as the Tobacco Institute, Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson, R.J. Reynolds anf Lorillard), indexed so they can be searched for keywords.
  • As well as the Legacy site [4]which has Philip Morris (PM) documents, the company has also created a public site for the same documents "[5]". This site was also created thanks to the attorney generals' settlement.
  • Scott M. Cutlip, "The Tobacco Wars: A Matter of Public Relations Ethics", Journal of Corporate Public Relations, 1992-93, Volume 3.
  • Richard W. Pollay, "Propaganda, Puffing and the Public Interest", PR Review, Fall 1990.
  • Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, "Tobacco Industry Front Groups", July 27, 1993. ANR also maintains a web page "Follow the money: Tracking Tobacco Industry Dollars in Your Community," with links to detailed reports on several tobacco front groups.
  • Ken Silverstein, "Smoke and Mirrors: The Tobacco Industry's Influence on the Phony 'Grassroots' Campaign for Liability Limits",Public Citizen, March 1996.


  1. Newspaper article Undated. Ness Motley document collection. Bates No. 2312 (Not a typo. That is a four-digit Bates No.)
  2. Fred Panzer, Tobacco Institute The Roper Proposal Memorandum/report. May 1, 1972. Bates No. 2024274199/4202
  3. Center for Media and Democracy U.S Exhibit 86,794, Article, "Impropaganda Review; Council for Tobacco Research" PR WATCH.ORG, COUNCIL FOR TOBACCO RESEARCH, July 30, 2003 Article. July 30, 2003. 11 Pages. DATTA Collection/U.S. Department of Justice Colllection, Bates No. upz36b00
  4. Hill & Knowlton Report of Activities through July 31, 1954 Report. July 31, 1954. 24 pp. Bates No. MWM000148-MWM000171, at page --0151
  5. H&K Murrow Program on Smoking and Cancer Memo. May 23, 1955. Ness Motley Document Collection. Bates No. 11311443
  6. Edward R. Murrow, Clarence Cook Little U.S Exhibit 21,156, Press, "Transcript of Edward R. Murrow's Second TV Show on 'Cigarettes and Lung Cancer'" CLARENCE COOK LITTLE, Sc.D., TOBACCO INDUSTRY RESEARCH COMMITTEE, June 7, 1955 Transcript. June 7, 1955. 8 p. DATTA/US DOJ Collection. Bates No. USX0111955-USX0111962
  7. C.C. Little, The Atlantic Monthly The Public and Smoking: Fear or Calm Deliberation? Article. December, 1957. 4 pages. Bates No. TITX0006651/6654, at page --6654

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