60 Years After Its ‘Frank Statement,’ Tobacco Industry’s Human Toll Still Climbing

Scartelli Olszewski P.C.

Virtually everyone now can agree that smoking cigarettes is really bad for you. Even today, a generation after the full health impact of smoking was revealed to the public, the CDC estimates that cigarettes are responsible for 20 percent of the deaths in the United States every year. That’s more than firearms, motor vehicle accidents, alcohol abuse and drug abuse combined.

An important reason why the death toll from cigarettes remains so high is that for decades, the tobacco industry engaged in a massive effort to mislead the public into believing its product was safe.Grievously ill, chemically addicted smokers have been filing liability lawsuits against tobacco companies since the early 1950s, after the first scientific studies linking smoking to poor health were made public. As unbelievable as it seems to us in the 21st century, though, the tobacco companies actually won most of those early cases. Much of the credit for that goes to a massive publicity blitz the industry launched in response to the emerging science demonstrating that smoking was dangerous to human health.After secret meetings during 1953, when the competing tobacco companies agreed to join forces against the common threat that public health awareness posed to their profits, the tobacco industry ran a two-page advertisement in more than 400 newspapers across the country at the beginning of 1954. The advertisement—a short essay entitled “A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers”—sought to cast doubt on all the previously reported research, calling it “inconclusive” and claiming that the findings were “questioned by numerous scientists.”The industry further declared its collective belief that cigarettes were “not injurious to health” and announced the formation of an industry-funded “science institute” to lead a “research effort into all phases of tobacco use and health.” Often citing their own institute’s research, tobacco companies were able to successfully argue that no scientific evidence definitively linked smoking to lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, or any of the other serious diseases that everyone now knows are often a direct outcome of a smoking habit. The industry further argued that cigarettes were not addictive and that smokers continued to smoke solely because they enjoyed the “taste” of the product or the “experience” of smoking.

For smokers who weren’t quite buying the publicity machine’s baloney, the industry had another answer: “light” cigarettes that allegedly could be smoked with less guilt or worry about health consequences. As we know now, of course, these “light” cigarette varieties were no less toxic than their parent brands.Obviously, there were some scientists working in the industry’s labs. Those who uncovered evidence that conflicted with the industry’s marketing message, however, found their careers abruptly cut short. A pair of scientists at Philip Morris (now known as the Altria Group) discovered in 1983 that cigarettes contained not one, but two highly addictive substances that clobbered smokers’ brains with a one-two punch of dependency. When company brass got wind of the research, the scientists’ study was terminated and their lab was shut down.As no-smoking policies gained traction in public spaces and private workplaces across the country, the industry designed and funded tainted “studies” intended from the outset to demonstrate no links between the inhalation of secondhand smoke and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.When ABC News ran a series of reports in 1994 exposing the industry practice of adding nicotine to cigarettes following tobacco processing, Philip Morris had the audacity to sue them for $10 billion. The industry was so confident in its ability to suppress evidence of the truth that just a month after the ABC News reports, a Who’s Who of tobacco company executives testified under oath to a Congressional hearing that cigarette smoking was not addictive.Michael Johnson is one of millions of smokers who would likely have disagreed. He began smoking in his early teens and continued for more than 20 years, often lighting his next cigarette with the butt of his last one. A longshoreman and a shuttle bus driver, he died of lung cancer in 1996. He was only 36 years old.This summer, a Florida court awarded his widow, Cynthia Robinson, $17 million in compensatory damages and slapped the R.J. Reynolds company with $23.6 billion in punitive damages, one of the largest penalties a jury has ever levied against a tobacco company.If you or a loved one has suffered health problems due to a lifelong smoking habit or as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke, Scartelli Olszewski may be able to help you confront the tobacco companies who are responsible. We’re familiar with the smoke the industry’s lawyers will try to blow in your direction. Let us clear the air. Call today.