Free choice vs. Addiction

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

Free choice vs. Addiction

A 1994 report to the Philip Morris (PM) Board titled Privileged and Confidential Presentation to the Board March 30, 1994, discusses the onslaught of public health actions to regulate tobacco that occurred in the U.S. under the Clinton administration. It also discusses a 1994 television news show (an ABC News "DayOne" segment) that claimed that Philip Morris spiked cigarettes with nicotine to keep smokers addicted. A portion near the end of the document discusses the tobacco industry's inside view of the particular threat that accrues when smoking is understood to be an addiction rather than a "choice."

In 1994, David A. Kessler (then Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or FDA) asserted that nicotine was an addictive drug intended to affect the structure and function of the body and therefore cigarettes should be regulated by the FDA. This document conveys why PM executives considered references to the addictiveness of smoking to be a major threat: because of how it could affect juries in liability lawsuits:

...The most serious concern that I have is that the adverse media attention...being leveled at the industry may ultimately impact on jurors' attitudes about our defense in product liability cases...But even if jurors do not believe that we 'spike' our products, they could nevertheless adopt a more skeptical attitude in the future toward our principal defense -- personal liability...If he [Kessler] were to declare that nicotine in cigarettes is addictive and must be regulated, that action could affect the way in which jurors approach the issues of addiction and choice.

The widespread framing of smoking as a normal and acceptable personal choice rather than an addiction is central to the industry's ability to continue to defend itself in liability suits. This portion of the document shows that the notion of smoking as "free choice" is undermined when smoking becomes widely viewed as nicotine addiction, which is actually a diagnosable disorder.[1]


  1. Author unknown Privileged and Confidential Presentation to the Board, March 30, 1994 Philip Morris Bates No.2022813447/3473