Tobacco Institute Film Project for Lay Audiences

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

This Tobacco Institute document (circa 1968) proposes that the Institute take a cue from the voluntary health agencies, like the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, and create a "lively documentary film" to communicate " 'the other side' " of the smoking and health controversy to the lay public.

The film would be designed to convey "the belief that better health can be achieved through basic scientific research--not through propaganda." The writer proposed that the film be simplistic ("a kind of cross between the 'Alka-Seltzer tummies' and the 'Excedrin headaches' ") and that the viewers be shown just enough information "to indicate that smoking is only one of many individual habits and responses to modern life--and only one of many factors involved in health and sickness."

The film was to be presented to civic, social and business groups "by industry representatives, including medical representatives." The narrator of the film would

...present some of the most dramatically contradictory statements that frame the controversy: dogmatic assertions that cigarette smoking unquestionably causes certain diseases, contrasted with the more realistic admissions that 'We haven't the foggiest notion' what causes a disease associated with smoking.

On 11 January 1964, four years before the Tobacco Institute came up with the idea for this film to help confuse people about the link between smoking and health, Luther L. Terry M.D., then Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, issued the landmark first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health, America's first widely publicized official recognition that cigarette smoking is a direct cause of cancer and other serious diseases.

Source/Company: Tobacco Institute
Document Date: 19680000/E
Length: 10 pages
Bates No. TIMN0070944/0953

Final film

The Tobacco Institute did in fact produce and distribute such a film. The title of the film was "Smoking & Health: The Need to Know, The Answers We Seek." Versions were available in 15 and 30 minute lengths.

A 1973 memo about the film was used as a Trial Exhibit in Minnesota's case against the tobacco industry.

In the memo, Anne H. Field Duffin, Vice President and Special Projects Director of the Tobacco Institute, wrote to William Kloepfer, President of the Institute, to inform Mr. Kloepfer that test showings of the Institute's new documentary film, Smoking & Health: The Need to Know, had "generated large and statistically significant shifts in attitudes favorable to the tobacco industry" among audiences, and the film reduced by 17.8% the number of people who agreed with the statement "cigarette smoking causes lung cancer."

Duffin also reported that, after viewing the film, significantly more audience members agreed with the statements: "the Surgeon General could be wrong about the dangers of smoking cigarettes," and "reports have overemphasized the dangers of smoking cigarettes."[1]

A different Institute memo, by Mr. Kloepfer and dated October 1, 1973, reveals that by October 1, 1973 the film had been shown to "37,000 in community audiences...including 18,000 men, 9,600 women, 5,400 boys and 3,200 girls..."[2]

A 1977 report by the film's distributor, Modern Talking Picture Service, says that by 1977 the film had been shown to 294,891 people, including "35,751 boys" and "24,518 girls."[3]

A 1976 Tobacco Institute document says that this and other films made by the Institute have been seen by "more than 1/2 million people during the past year" [4]


  1. Audience Testing of Smoking and Health: The Need to Know. Duffin A., Tobacco Institute. Memorandum/Trial Exhibit; June 29, 1973. Bates No. TIMN0004654/4657
  2. Distribution of "Need to Know Kloepfer W. Tobacco Institute. October 1, 1973. Bates No. TIMN0078203
  3. Certification of Showings #49 Smoking and Health - The Need To Know. Report. Modern Talking Picture Service; January 31, 1977. Bates No. TINY 0013656/3660
  4. Status Report and Update Public Relations Strategy of U.S. Tobacco Manufacturers RE: Smoking & Health Controversy May 1, 1976. Bates No. TIOK0034140/41470