Tobacco Industry Research Committee

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

The Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC), which was later called the Council for Tobacco Research, was established on December 28 1953,[1] and first publicized in January 1954.[2] It was an extension of the Tobacco Institute, and it was set up as a "shield" for the industry, serving as a public relations front by allowing the industry to claim it was funding research to find answers to "questions" of smoking and health.[3]

Its offices were in the Empire State Building, one floor below that of the PR firm which originally set up and ran it, Hill & Knowlton. [4] Ten years after its formation, the TIRC changed its name to Council for Tobacco Research (CTR) (Jan 1964) and it changed the structure and introduce new bylines.[1]

William Thomas Hoyt of H&K managed the whole operation at first, with the title of "Executive Secretary" and, in 1961, with the title of "Executive Director.[5]

Tobacco Institute
Council for Tobacco Research
Key documents: TIRC/CTR (Doc Index)

Independence Claim

TIRC's mission statement was "to aid and assist research into tobacco use and health, and particularly into the alleged relationship between the use of tobacco and lung cancer, and to make available to the public factual information on this subject."[6] In order to provide it with a modicum of credibility, the TIRC set up a seven-man Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), selected by Hill & Knowlton which had "full responsibility for research policy and programming, but does not itself directly engage in research."[citation needed] However, the members of the SAB all represented organizations (mostly university research departments) which were keen to get priority access to the new million dollar grant system.

The industry maintained that "the TIRC didn't operate any research facilities itself, however the Tobacco Institute appears to have operated a $100,000 "Testing Laboratory" in 1976.[7][8]

This was the first time that the cigarette companies had worked cooperatively on the political front, and many of the early research grants achieved some scientific benefits, both for the industry and for the general smoking public. The TIRC also served other purposes:

  • initially it also acted as a public relations agency. Later this work was passed over to the Tobacco Institute, which was established later.[9]
  • it kept the industry informed of the latest developments in medical and scientific research in the US universities and overseas.
  • the grants to medical researchers became the linchpin in the industry's strategy to delay substantive regulatory actions
  • highly-selected grants to tobacco-friendly scientists boosted the argument that conclusive evidence did not exist linking cigarettes with disease, and that further evidence was needed.

The leader and his team

"The Frank Statement" promised that the TIRC would be headed by a prominent scientist. A press release put out after the industry's meeting in Atlantic City said that the director would be a "scientist of unimpeachable integrity and national repute".[10] The fact that this was widely believed probably reflects the naivete of the times.

The man chosen for the (then part-time) position was Clarence Cook Little the founder and director of Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.[citation needed] Two of the TIRC's subsequent SAB members (Howard Bancroft Andervont and Edwin Bidwell Wilson) were also directors of the Jackson Laboratory, and Hugh Knowlton was the President.[citation needed]

Little had the right credentials as an administrator, and some claim to fame as a geneticist. He had been president at various times of the University of Michigan and the University of Maine, and he was also the long-term editor of Cancer magazine -- which would have not passed unnoticed by the tobacco industry's selection committee.

At the TIRC, Little initially controlled the grant-making decisions as President of the SAB (later lawyers took some of the control out of his hands), and he made sure that the money was equitably shared around between all organizations with a representative on the board, plus a few genuine grants for show.

Many years before, in 1944, as managing director of the American Society for the Control of Cancer (the predecessor of the American Cancer Society) he had warned against smoking. But he appears to have been inversely persuaded as to smoking's hazards as the scientific evidence against it grew. As head of the TIRC, he made statements like:

"if smoke in the lungs was a sure-fire cause of cancer we'd all have it. We'd all have had it long ago. The cause is much more complicated than that", and he dismissed statistical connections as not proving "causation".[11]

His more flamboyant statements created headlines of the kind: "You can get cancer from eating chicken," and he criticized the UK Royal College of Physicians report saying that "it glosses over considerable scientific research" while maintaining that "every effort to induce lung cancer in animals by having them inhale tobacco smoke has failed."[citation needed]

He testified that the TIRC "had never done any work on tobacco smoke because it had not been proved to be carcinogenic. Such studies were therefore "A waste of time."[12]

He died in harness in 1971 at age 83, and for safety's sake, subsequent directors of the new CTR were chosen by the tobacco industry lawyers ([Committee of Counsel])[citation needed], rather than the PR advisors:

  1. William Ullman Gardner 1971-81,
  2. Sheldon Charles Sommers 1981 - 87,
  3. James Francis Glenn 1988-90,
  4. Harmon Carlyle McAllister, Jr. 1991-99).

The top full-time position -- the man who actually ran the program while Little was the figurehead -- as Research Director Robert Casad Hockett who developed a substantial reputation in the industry as a first-class controller of scientists.[citation needed]

History of establishment

The TIRC was hurriedly organized in late 1953 as the tobacco industry's answer to the charge that they had not conducted adequate scientific research to establish the safety or dangers of their product.

The mission, it claimed, was "to reassure the public that the industry could responsibly investigate Smoking & Health issues and that it could resolve any problems that were uncovered." Actually, was the mission was "to stamp out brush fires as they arose" - to deliberately confuse the public about the risks of smoking (says a 1969 document) and "spread doubt over strong scientific evidence and the public won't know what to believe."[citation needed]

There had been growing concern about the link between smoking and lung cancer since the early 1900s (when few smoked cigarettes). As far back as 1900 a researcher had painted guinea pigs with tobacco juice and declared he got tumors.[citation needed]

By 1945 there were about 4,000 deaths a year from lung cancer, and smoking was widely suggested as the probable cause.[citation needed] This resulted in fierce ad campaigns where the tobacco companies attacked their opposition, while declaring "More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette"[citation needed] and "XXX brand doesn't create T-throat" and other ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims.

In 1951 Alton Ochsner (ex-President of the American Cancer Society) and his associates published "a review of Experiences with 1,458 Cases of Bronchogenic Carcinoma." Ochsner declared "I am firmly convinced of the relationship between smoking and lung cancer. Men who have been heavy smokers should have routine chest X-rays at least every six months."[citation needed]

Then, in 1952, Doll and Hill published their epidemiological study on Smoking and health in the British Journal of Medicine (BMJ), and Ernst L. Wynder and his associate Evarts A. Graham (then probably the top thoracic surgeon in America) published a similar statistical population study report in the US Science magazine, based on Graham's surgical patients with lung disease.[citation needed]

Almost overnight, smoking was firmly associated in the medical mind as a major cause of lung cancer.

In November 1952 Ernst Wynder presented an experimental study at a St. Louis meeting of National Academy of Science where he stated that "About 22% of the mice painted with tobacco tar developed cancer of the skin and about 50% of the mice still alive at 18 months have developed skin carcinomas."[citation needed]

His partner, Everts Graham, said that: "Dr Ernst L. Wynder and I have reproduced cancer experimentally in mice by merely using the tars from tobacco smoke. This shows conclusively that there is something in cigarette smoke which can produce cancer."[citation needed]

This brought a bitter complaint from the head of the American Tobacco Co (ATCO), Paul M. Hahn, to the Chairman of the Damon Runyon Memorial Fund which had financed the Wynder/Graham mouse-painting study. Hahn claimed that John Teeter, the head of the fund, was "not controlling either the course of the experiments or the publication of results." However a plausible mechanism now existed to explain the smoking-cancer link. [13]

This year, Lorillard (which had supplied Wynder with his condensate 'tars', and therefore had early warning) also released Kent the first U.S. filter cigarette to be widely sold. The filter, of course, was designed to remove the 'tars' of tobacco smoke, but unfortunately, Lorillard made some Kent filters out of asbestos fiber, which rather defeated the objective.[citation needed]

A few months later, a Reader's Digest article "Cancer by the Carton" was the first to present the evidence of a link to the general public, and, in November 1953 Time magazine published a full report on the mouse-painting trials, with the conclusion that it was unequivocal confirmation that the link existed.[14]

The World Health Organization also had report this year which implicated cigarettes in lung cancer, and the first major law suit was filed (in Kansas) against the tobacco companies.[citation needed] Other magazines now began to look at the possibility of articles on tobacco, and Business Week stated that the cigarette industry faced "what is perhaps potentially the gravest problem besetting any industry since Prohibition shut down the liquor business."[citation needed]

Under this flood of adverse evidence, the head of the American Tobacco Company, Paul Hahn, asked the giant PR firm Hill & Knowlton (H&K) to put together a secret meeting of tobacco executives (they had to be careful that they weren't violating anti-trust laws), and this group first met on December 14 1953 at the Plaza Hotel in New York.[citation needed]

The tobacco executives initially determined to counter the adverse publicity with a major public relations exercise to be mounted under the name "Tobacco Industry Committee for Public Information", but John Hill of H&K convinced them that they needed a two-pronged approach to be credible: both PR and some actual research.[citation needed]

At a second Plaza Hotel meeting four days later, the tobacco industry agreed upon a new cooperative strategy[15][16]

  1. The establishment of the TIRC to answer charges that the industry had failed its "duty of care" to its customers by not conducting adequate research to prove their products were safe. This was put under Hill & Knowlton's control with a chairman from the tobacco industry.
  2. All companies funded and signed "A Frank Statement" which was run as full-page ads in 330 major U.S. newspapers. It claimed that the links were not proven, and said that the industry was supporting research, and would look after the health of their customers.[17]
  3. Hill & Knowlton was contracted to run an ongoing program of public attitude research, advertising, and general public relations. This gradually extended into the political-influence field, and eventually the Tobacco Institute was formed as a separate body (although the activities of the two organizations were always linked).

Council for Tobacco Research

In 1964 the TIRC was restructured (with the same key staff), as the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR). The lawyers had even more say in the CTR than then had had in the TIRC, although the Scientific Advisory Board grew to 15. This organization then ran for another 34 years until it was disbanded under the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).[18]

Additional Reading

  • Publications Review - Propaganda, Puffing and the Public Interest [2]
  • See also this remarkable 1978 analysis of the TIRC by tobacco lawyers [Shook Hardy & Bacon] [3]
  • And this Devil's Advocate report by lawyers [4]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Topics Index - A Brief History of the Council for Tobacco Research, Originally called the Tobacco Industry Research Committee Report. December 31, 1982. 21 pp. Council for Tobacco Research Bates No. CTRMN039046/9066
  2. Fuller & Smith & Ross, Inc., New York "A Frank Statement..." - Newspaper List 1954 Circulation State & Market Newspapers Report. December 31, 1953. Ness Motley documents Bates No. 11309855/9879
  3. Topics Index - A Brief History of the Council for Tobacco Research, Originally called the Tobacco Industry Research Committee Report. December 31, 1982. 21 pp. Council for Tobacco Research Bates No. CTRMN039046/9066
  4. Topics Index - A Brief History of the Council for Tobacco Research, Originally called the Tobacco Industry Research Committee Report. December 31, 1982. 21 pp. Council for Tobacco Research Bates No. CTRMN039046/9066 , at PDF page 5
  5. P.M.Hahn, American Tobacco Company No title Letter. December 15, 1960. 1 page. Bates No. 11302869/2869
  6. No author. Introduction 1969. 1 page. Bates No. HK0944140/4140
  7. In response to your letter dated May 3, 1976, to Mr. Hobbs Roemer, HC. Letter. May 11, 1976. R.J. Reynolds Bates No. 501518989
  8. Smoking Machine Hoyt, WT. Tobacco September, 1954. Council for Tobacco Research Bates No. 11310948/0948
  9. Tobacco Industry Research Committee Information Activities, August and September, 1954. Hill and Knowlton, Inc. September, 1954. Tobacco Institute Bates No. TINY0001828/1833
  10. Display, "What the Frank Statement Did Say About TIRC" Council for Tobacco Research, 1954, MINNESOTA v. PHILIP MORRIS INC. Defendant's Trial Exhibit. 1954. 1 page. DATTA Collection. Bates No.EXHIBX1949
  11. A Reporter At Large, A Cloud Of Smoke Whiteside, T. November 30, 1963. American Tobacco Bates No. 966018382/8390
  12. Report Regarding Corporate Activity Project Kaczynski, Stephen J. Brown & Williamson Bates No. 681879254/9715 (See page 145, Bates No. 681879254)
  13. Chronology of Events No author. Report. December, 1949. Bates N. 950375943/5988 (See from page 14 on)
  14. Janet C. Brown, Theories for Defending Smoking and Health Litigation, Report. Brown & Williamson, August 20, 1985. Bates No. 680712251/2260
  15. Notes on Minutes of the Tobacco Industry Research Committee Meeting - 531228 Darrow, RW. Hill & Knowlton. Philip Morris Bates No. 2076846944/6947
  16. Hill and Knowlton, [ "Notes on Minutes of Tobacco industry research committee meeting December 28, 1953", Bates No. 2076846944.
  17. A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers Advertisement. Undated. Bates No. 11320896/0896
  18. Richard Zitrin & Carol M. Langford, "The Special Privileges of Tobacco" in The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer, Ballantine Books, 1999.

External resources

<tdo>resource_id=25790 resource_code=tirc search_term="Tobacco Industry Research Committee"</tdo>

External articles