Joseph Robertson

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The Australian (Sydney)-based brother of the US tobacco industry's infamous Gray Robertson (John Graham Robertson) who ran the fake air-testing company Healthy Buildings International (HBI). Joe Robertson ran HBI Australia which also did work in South East Asia for the industry. They specialised in the corrupt measurements of office/indoor air quality (IAQ) to discount the contribution of cigarette smoking, while promoting the need to upgrade air-exchanges.

BAT : British-American Tobacco The giant English conglomerate. It owned B&W in the USA and others food & tobacco cos. worldwide .
IAQ : Indoor Air Quality ETS was usually the main toxic component in indoor air. Chemical vapours and plastic exudates also.
ETS : Environmental Tobacco Smoke The smoke of 'passive smoking'. It has two toxic components: MS (mainstream hot-burned smoke) and SS (sidestream smouldering smoke).
C&B : Covington & Burling; US tobacco industry's second-most important legal-lobby firms

They largely invented, and certainly promoted, the term Sick Building Syndrome to deflect attention from the contribution to office discomfort from passive smoking (ETS). By labelling high-rise buildings and offices as 'sick-buildings' they could rely on union pressure to force the owners and occupiers to increase the rate of air-exchange, and therefore reduce the discomfort from passive smoking without blaming cigarettes. This problem arose from the rapid rise of energy costs in the 1980s and 90s, when the rate of air-exchange was kept deliberately low to save energy bills, resulting in increased complaints from non-smokers and smokers suffering eye problems and headaches. The aim of identifying buildings as 'sick' was to scapegoat air-conditioning maintenance and air-exchange rates as the cause of the problem, rather than passive smoke. A whole corrupt industry was constructed around this thesis; unions and equipment manufacturers also benefitted financially. This propaganda was coupled with funding of IAQ-testing companies to produce loaded reports.

Documents & Dates

[undated] Dr. Robertson, (almost certainly Joe) says he studied at University of Melbourne Type in Bates Number: 2028398146

1990 Jun 12 The TIA conducted preliminary talks with Mr Robertson about opening an Australian branch of his firm (HBI). At week's end, Mr Robertson and his brother, who resides in Sydney and would manage the branch, had shaken hands on an agreement whereby the TIA would provide seed money and a consulting contract with the firm. In turn the branch ACVA Pacific would work in much the same way it does in the US .. speaking out publicly on the issue of ETS. (Type-in Bates Number) 506303236

1990 Oct 31 Philip Morris's Tom Osdene maintained a diary which provides plenty of uncensored information about his activities as a major disinformation executive.

Clive Turner talked with Rupp - sponsor a couple of small studies by G Robertson, Will discuss tomorrow.

Don Harris - only thing left to lose in Singapore in workplace smoking?? Dend in Gray -- do survey etc. Seems to have little effect. [??Dead-end??] Mopsy Mary Pottorff and Bill Murray said money for ETS would come out of New York -- for conferences, consultants, testimoney (for Singapore)

Moving ahead in Australia. Gray invited to give small conference in Singapore. Workplace testing. Distribution of HBI newsletter in Singapore. OK from Don Harris. Lee Quan Yew - Use Joe Robertson (Gray's Brother)

Who in HK should get the [HBI] magazine?

Joe will identify buildings in the cities (for Harris poll in 7 Australian cities) -- followed by a briefing session [2]

1992 Oct 1 Joe Robertson of HBI in Australia has faxed lawyer John Rupp at Covington & Burling, re: an EnviroPro '92 conference being run in Malaysia.

At this point in time I would be able to attend the Malaysia conference if required. It would afford me an opportanity to speak to Ferarri [unknown] whose farewell I was unable to attend. That might produce more detail on his plans in the region.

[This suggests a number of things.

  • that C&B 'required' HBI to attend various conferences (presumably as part of their contract.
  • that Ferrari had been celebrated enough to have a generous farewell party when he resigned, which would normally have required Joe to travel from Australia.
  • that they were worried about Ferrari, and needed to keep watch over his further activities in the region. ]


1992 Oct 1 John Rupp repies to Joe Robertson:

Thanks for your fax. I have passed the information along to Arif Bador. We are grateful to you for having alerted us. [4]

1992 Oct 22 John Rupp has also sent EnvironPro-92 documents to Sharon Boyse at BAT. [5]

1993 Jun 13 Letter from John Rupp of C&B to the Confederation of Malaysian Tobacco Manufacturers (Arif Bador and others). He is outlining plans involving Professor Roger Perry, George Leslie (both key members of ARIA), and HBI's Joe Robertson.

  1. Visit to KL by R Perry, G Leslie. This was still to be approved by the supporting companies at a Hong Kong meeting. This would occur in late July or early August and be coordinated by Dr Lim. He has written to Perry and Leslie and is awaiting their response.
  2. Robertson publication. Rupp agrees to pursue with Joe Robertson the possibility of his publishing the results of the KL building studies that were complete last year.
  3. Follow-up visit by Joe Robertson to KL. Rupp will canvass his participation in a series of meetings in KL after the visit by Perry and Leslie. This would be in the fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of 1994. Dr Lim is to identify events in KL in which Mr Robertson might participate -- Ms Nun handle the press contacts (also with C&B's list)
  4. Lim Newspaper column . Rupp will investigate further with Dr Lim the possibility of his writing and getting one of the leading KL newspapers to publish a periodic newspaper column in occupational health issues.
  5. Monograph distribution. We have obtained from Dr Lim a list of people within Malaysia who we might send copies of the Tokyo and Bangkock monographs. I am sending you [also] several copies of "Other People's Tobacco Smoke" [to be] distributed by industry representatives.
  6. Hong Kong television tape -- workplace survey. He will attempt to locate for KL a tape of Dr Sarah Liao which they discussed at their meeting.
  7. KL air quality monitoring report. We agreed to work with Dr Lim to develop a list of university-affiliated scientists in KL who would be qualified to work with Dr Lim on an air quality monitoring project. The project we have in mind would extend the work completed last year by Mr Robertson. We are to pursue the possibility of having this work funded by the EEC, British Council or other comparable entitity.
  8. Lim attendance at London MSS conference. We agreed [to look] into the possibility of funding Dr Lim to attend the international MSS conference that will be held this fall in London (working with Professor Roger Perry to find funding for the later project)
  9. ETS presentation module We agreed to send to you as well as to the CMTM member company representatives the final version of the ETS presentation module.


1994 Dec The activities of HBI were exposed by a US House of Representatives Subcommittee looking at the problem of ETS. This was a result of the work of Rep. Henry Waxman.

Subcommittee on Health and the Environment - Majority Staff Report: Dec. 20 1994
Healthy Buildings International (HBI) began its relationship with the tobacco industry in 1985. At that time, the company was a small and obscure indoor air firm. In addition to the president and vice president, it had only two technical employees and operated under the name ACVA Atlantic. Over the next nine years, however, HBI grew to be an international presence in the indoor air field. This was due in large measure to the patronage of the tobacco industry. During this period, the Tobacco Institute, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, and the Center for Indoor Air Research (a tobacco-industry research organization) paid HBI millions of dollars for its services.
    The tobacco industry went to great lengths to promote HBI. The Tobacco Institute paid the expenses of a public relations firm, Fleishman-Hillard, to arrange media tours for HBI throughout the United States. From September 1990 to November 1992, Philip Morris covered all the expenses of, and paid HBI a substantial fee for, the publication of a magazine entitled "Healthy Buildings International Magazine." The magazine, which included glossy color photographs, was published in eight languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch, and Finnish) and disseminated worldwide.
    A report circulated within HBI in late 1991 or 1992 describes "the HBI concept" that the tobacco industry paid so much to promote. According to this document, "the key objective of the HBI concept is to broaden the debate on indoor air quality to deflect the ETS challenge." The document states that "HBI is now positioned as an authority on IAQ issues" [and has] "brought balance to the IAQ [indoor air quality] debate" [by promoting] "acceptance that ETS is in fact a minor contributor."
    HBI performed at least two vital services for the tobacco industry. First, it conducted scientific research for the industry that purported to show that ETS is not a significant source of indoor air pollution. The most significant of these research studies was done in 1989, when HBI was paid over $200,000 by the tobacco industry's Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR) to study ETS levels in 585 office environments. The results of this study were summarized in a final report to CIAR in January 1990 presented to EPA in public comments in September 1990, and formally published in 1992.
    In addition to conducting research for the tobacco industry, HBI regularly testified for the industry in opposition to federal, state, and local restrictions on smoking. Over most of the last decade, HBI was the tobacco industry's principal defender on ETS matters. According to the records of the Tobacco Institute, HBI testified 129 times for the Tobacco Institute from August 1985 through September 1994 -- an average of more than once per month. In some months, HBI testified as many as six times. HBI's appearances for the Tobacco Institute included testimony before Congress (including this Subcommittee on June 27, 1986, and March 17, 1994), before state legislatures, and before local governments. [7]


1997 Feb This document suggests that Joe and Gray were not brothers (but they were close relatives). It says that HBI Australia was a BAT subsidiary (all probably incorrect). This is a Feb-March 1997 report (Type-in Bates Number) 700533546_3547

1998 Nov 13 Reg Hodgson on Australian Standards (IAQ)

Linda Rudge (BAT) Catherine Byrnes (Rothmans) Joe Robertson and Chris Salmon (HBI) and I had a conference call with regard to the "appendix" which, it is proposed, will be attached to the revised standards. Chris gave us a briefing on his discussions with the standards review sub committee.

It appears that,while the committee took up some of the points Chris put forward on methodology, they were of the view that if Chris was not comfortable with the appendix, he should have put forward an alternative.

As I have suggested to you before, I hold the view that the appendix was produced to address the criticism that the draft revised standard did not deal with the alleged health issues of ETS exposure, therefore the revisions were unlikely to be accepted by the full standards committee to which the sub committee reports. For these reasons the appendix will not go away.

The possibilty of developing an alternative to the appendix also has problems. ls it possible for us to develop a benchmark for ETS exposure? Surely this would imply that we accept that ETS exposure does carry some level of risk [8]