How Hill & Knowlton helped sell smoking to the public.

  November 22 - November 29, 1995
  How The American Tobacco Industry Employs PR Scum To Continue Its Murderous
  Assault On Human Lives.
By John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton

     "I'LL TELL YOU why I like the cigarette business," billionaire
     Warren Buffett is reported to have once remarked. "It costs a penny
     to make. Sell it for a dollar. It's addictive. And there's
     fantastic brand loyalty."
     This comment from the man who was once R.J. Reynolds' largest
     shareholder illustrates how wide the gap is between reality and
     tobacco makers' pretense that tobacco's dangers are "not yet
     Everyone knows tobacco is addictive and harmful to your health. Its
     dangers have been warned of for centuries, and scientific evidence
     has been overwhelming since the 1950s.
     The need to hook customers on a product that would kill them made
     the tobacco industry one of the first major clients of the
     then-fledgling public relations industry in the early 20th century.
     Tobacco companies used PR's psychological marketing skills to first
     hook women and then children on their drug. Legendary PR figures
     John Hill, Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays (now revered within the
     industry as the "father of public relations") all worked on PR for
     tobacco, pioneering techniques that today remain the PR industry's
     stock in trade: third-party advocacy, subliminal message
     reinforcement, junk science, phony front groups, advocacy
     advertising, and buying favorable news reporting with advertising
     To persuade women cigarette smoking could help them stay beautiful,
     Bernays developed a campaign based on the slogan, "Reach for a
     Lucky Instead of a Sweet." The campaign played on women's worries
     about their weight and increased Lucky sales threefold in just 12
     months. (The message, "cigarettes keep you thin," reverberates
     today in the brand name Virginia Slims.)
     But smoking remained a taboo for "respectable" women, and Bernays
     (a nephew of Sigmund Freud) turned to psychoanalyst A.A. Brill for
     advice. Brill provided a classic Freudian analysis: "Some women
     regard cigarettes as symbols of freedom....Smoking is a sublimation
     of oral eroticism....The first women who smoked probably had an
     excess of masculine components and adopted the habit as a masculine
     act....Cigarettes, which are equated with men, become torches of
     Brill's analysis inspired Bernays to stage a legendary publicity
     event that is still taught as a model in PR schools. To sell
     cigarettes as a symbol of women's liberation, he hired beautiful
     women to march in New York's prominent Easter parade, each waving a
     lit cigarette and wearing a banner proclaiming it a "torch of
     liberty." Bernays made sure publicity photos of his smoking models
     appeared world-wide.
     Decades of saturation cigarette advertising and promotion continued
     into the 1950s via billboards, magazines, movies, TV and radio.
     Thanks to Bernays and other early pioneers of public relations,
     cigarettes built a marketing juggernaut upon an unshakable
     identification with sex, youth, vitality and freedom. The work for
     the tobacco industry, in turn, earned PR widespread credibility and
     launched the rise of today's multi-billion dollar public relations
  The Truth Hurts
     IN 1952, READER'S Digest ran an influential article titled "Cancer
     by the Carton." A 1953 report by Dr. Ernst L. Wynder heralded to
     the scientific community a definitive link between cigarette
     smoking and cancer. Over the next two years, dozens of articles
     appeared in The New York Times and other major public publications:
     Good Housekeeping, the New Yorker, Look, Woman's Home Companion.
     Sales of cigarettes went into an unusual, sudden decline.
     The tobacco czars were in a panic. Internal memos from the
     industry-funded Tobacco Institute refer to the PR fallout from this
     scientific discovery as the "1954 emergency." Fighting desperately
     for its economic life, the tobacco industry launched what must be
     considered the costliest, longest-running and most successful PR
     "crisis management" campaign in history. In the words of the
     industry itself, the campaign was aimed at "promoting cigarettes
     and protecting them from these and other attacks," by "creating
     doubt about the health charge without actually denying it, and
     advocating the public's right to smoke, without actually urging
     them to take up the practice."
     For help, the tobacco industry turned to John Hill, the founder of
     the PR megafirm, Hill & Knowlton. Hill designed a brilliant and
     expensive campaign the tobacco industry is still using today in its
     fight to save itself from public rejection and governmental action.
     Hill is remembered today as a shrewd but ethical businessman. In a
     letter, he once stated, "It is not the work of public outsmart the American public by helping management
     build profits." Yet Hill's work to save tobacco in the 1950s is
     such an egregious example of "outsmarting the American
     build profits" that Hill & Knowlton is still in court today
     answering criminal charges. The strategy he prescribed has been
     described by the American Cancer Society as "a delaying action to
     mislead the public into believing that no change in smoking habits
     is indicated from existing statistical and pathological evidence."
  Smoke and Mirrors
     AT HILL'S SUGGESTION, the industry created a group called the
     Tobacco Institute Research Committee (TIRC), and ran a full-page
     ad, titled "A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers," in more than
     400 newspapers. The ad acknowledged tobacco companies had a
     "special responsibility" to the public, and promised to sponsor
     "independent research" aimed at "learning the facts about smoking
     and health."
     This pretense of honest concern from a respected figure worked its
     expected magic. Opinion research by Hill & Knowlton showed only 9
     percent of the newspapers expressing opinions on the TIRC were
     unfavorable, whereas 65 percent were favorable without reservation.
     There is no question the tobacco industry knew what scientists were
     learning about tobacco. The TIRC maintained a library with
     cross-indexed medical and scientific papers from 2,500 medical
     journals, as well as press clippings, government reports and other
     documents. TIRC employees culled this library for scientific data
     with inconclusive or contrary results regarding tobacco and the
     harm to human health. These were compiled into a carefully selected
     18-page booklet, titled "A Scientific Perspective on the Cigarette
     Controversy," which was mailed to over 200,000 people, including
     doctors, members of Congress and the news media.
     During the 1950s, tobacco companies more than doubled their
     advertising budgets, going from $76 million in 1953 to $122 million
     in 1957. The TIRC spent another $948,151 in 1954 alone, of which
     one-fourth went to Hill & Knowlton, another fourth went to pay for
     media ads, and most of the remainder went to administrative costs.
     Despite TIRC's promise to "sponsor independent research," only
     $80,000, or less than 10 percent of the total budget for the year,
     actually went to scientific projects.
     In 1963 the TIRC changed its name to the Council for Tobacco
     Research. In addition to this "scientific" council, Hill & Knowlton
     helped set up a separate PR and lobbying organization, the Tobacco
     Institute. Formed in 1958, the Tobacco Institute grew by 1990 into
     what the Public Relations Journal described as one of the "most
     formidable public relations/lobbying machines in history," spending
     an estimated $20 million a year and employing 120 PR professionals
     to fight the combined forces of the Surgeon General of the United
     States, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society,
     the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.
     In the 1990s, medical studies estimated 400,000 of the 50 million
     smokers in the United States were dying each year from
     tobacco-related diseases, and that smoking was likely to be a
     contributing factor in the deaths of half the smokers in the
     country. Tobacco opponents lobbied for public education and strict
     new regulations to prevent youthful addiction and to protect the
     public's right to a smoke-free environment.
     But despite smoking's bad press, tobacco profits have continued to
     soar, and the industry is opening new, unregulated mega-markets in
     Asia, Eastern Europe and the Third World. Even in the U.S., most
     attempts at serious federal or state regulation or taxation are
     swatted down by tobacco's skilled army of highly paid Lobbyists.
  Snatching Victory from the Ashes
     ONE WAY THE cigarette industry intends to keep winning is by
     escalating to unprecedented levels its use of front groups such as
     the "National Smokers Alliance," an ambitious and well-funded
     "grassroots" campaign developed by Burson-Marsteller PR with
     millions of dollars from Philip Morris.
     The National Smokers Alliance (NSA) is a state-of-the-art campaign
     that uses full-page newspaper ads, direct telemarketing, paid
     canvassers, free 800 numbers and newsletters to bring thousands of
     smokers into its ranks each week. By 1995 NSA claimed a membership
     of three million smokers. The campaign's goal is to rile up and
     mobilize a committed cadre of foot soldiers in a grassroots army
     directed by Philip Morris' political operatives at
     Burson-Marsteller. Philip Morris knows that to win politically it
     has to "turn out the troops," people who can emotionally battle on
     its behalf. The NSA is a sophisticated, camouflaged campaign that
     organizes tobacco's victims to protect tobacco's profits.
     In the past, the tobacco industry attempted, not too convincingly,
     to distance itself from pro-smoking forces. The Tobacco Institute's
     Brennan Dawson told Congressional Quarterly in 1990, "If we were to
     fund smokers' rights groups and bring them to Washington, wouldn't
     they then be viewed as an arm of the tobacco industry?"
     Apparently desperate times require more obvious measures. In 1994,
     National Journal writer Peter Stone observed NSA "is increasingly
     looking like a subsidiary of Burson-Marsteller," and noted the PR
     firm "used its grassroots lobbying unit, the Advocacy
     Communications Team, to start building membership in the group last
     year." Thomas Humber, a Burson-Marsteller vice-president, is
     president and CEO of the NSA. Burson executives Kenneth Rietz and
     Pierre Salinger are active, as is Peter G. Kelly, a prominent
     Democrat with the firm of Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, which is
     owned by Burson-Marsteller.
     How does the NSA recruit smoking's victims into becoming its
     advocates? Through a combination of high-tech direct marketing
     techniques and old-fashioned "feet in the street" community
     organizing. Like every good grassroots group, the National Smokers
     Alliance has a folksy but strident newsletter for its membership,
     called The NSA Voice. According to its June 1994 issue, the NSA
     pays hundreds of young activists to sign up members in bars and
     bowling alleys in cities around the country. Eric Schippers, in
     charge of the membership drive, reported that "during only the
     first two months of activity, the Chicago campaign put 180
     recruiters on the street and enlisted more than 40,000 members."
     Many NSA members are first recruited via full-page ads with 800
     numbers that exhort puffers to stand up for their rights. Everyone
     who calls receives the NSA newsletter free for three months, along
     with 10 membership recruitment cards and stickers to place in
     stores and restaurants that say, "I am a smoker and have spent
     $______ in your establishment." NSA members who sign up another 10
     people at $10 each can win a free NSA T-shirt. The committed and
     informed pro-smoking advocate can also call a free 800 number to
     order more sign-up cards and stickers, or get the latest marching
     orders regarding which bureaucrats or politicians need nudging from
     Marlboro's masses. One recent NSA mailing, sent first class to
     hundreds of thousands of smokers, urged them to write letters to
     the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to defeat
     new regulations that would "ban smoking in any site where work is
     Burson-Marsteller's propagandists have even coined a clever play on
     words that questions the patriotism of anti-smokers by calling them
     "anti-Americans." NSA's newsletter advises, "If 'Anti' America is
     pushing a discriminatory smoking ban in your workplace, speak up,"
     and "check the laws in your state with regard to the protection of
     individual rights."
  Bringing in the Sheaves
     IN RECENT YEARS California has been the front line of the tobacco
     wars and the state where the industry has suffered its worst
     setbacks. In 1988 the cigarette companies spent more than $20
     million in a failed effort to defeat a major anti-smoking
     initiative. Since then health activists have passed hundreds of
     local smoking bans. As a result, California has seen a 27 percent
     decrease in cigarette consumption, the most success of any state in
     reducing tobacco's deadly toll.
     Philip Morris is fighting back through a California PR firm called
     the Dolphin Group. Dolphin CEO Lee Stitzenberger used a
     half-million dollars from Philip Morris to set up a front group
     called "Californians for Statewide Smoking Restrictions." Using
     this deceptive name, NSA members gathered signatures to put a
     referendum on the California ballot in November 1994, which the
     Dolphin Group promoted with billboards reading, "Yes on 188--Tough
     Statewide Smoking Restrictions--The Right Choice."
     In reality, Proposition 188 was a pro-tobacco referendum which, if
     passed, would have undermined 270 existing local anti-smoking
     ordinances in California cities, as well as the state's new
     statewide smoke-free workplace law. Anti-smoking groups charged
     that many of the people who signed petitions in favor of the
     referendum were led to believe they were supporting a measure to
     protect nonsmokers and youths. After the public learned about the
     funding source behind "Californians for Statewide Smoking
     Restrictions," opinion turned decisively against the referendum and
     it was voted down. "The $25 million smokescreen the tobacco
     industry created to dupe Californians into voting for Proposition
     188 has cleared, and the voters have spoken," declared the American
     Cancer Society.
     The tobacco industry's PR campaign is not really about swaying
     public opinion, a battle which the industry has already lost. Even
     half of smokers favor stricter government regulation of their
     deadly habit. The industry's goal is not to win good PR, but to
     avoid losing political and legal battles. This survivalist strategy
     has served the cigarette industry well for 40 years. At a PR
     seminar in May 1994, Tom Lauria, the chief lobbyist for the Tobacco
     Institute, pointed out tobacco sales continue to grow worldwide. He
     dismissed tobacco critics as simply a "political correctness craze"
     and ridiculed predictions of tobacco's demise, saying the media
     have been preparing smoking's obituary for decades. Tobacco may be
     fighting for its life, but Lauria reminded the assembled PR
     practitioners their industry has been fighting and winning that
     battle for a long time.
                                 Flack Attack
     A ROMANTIC MYTHOLOGY surrounds the journalistic profession. We like
     to think that reporters are all like the guys on N.Y. News,
     relentlessly digging until the truth is exposed and villains
     receive their just punishment.
     For the people who really shape the news--the public relations
     industry--this myth serves an obvious useful function. It is also a
     useful myth for the news media, which perpetuate the image of the
     crusading press with frequent self-congratulatory editorials and
     newspaper mastheads proclaiming "The only security of all is a free
     In reality, according to scholars who study the media, at least 40
     percent of all "news" today flows virtually unedited from public
     relations offices. Media critics note journalists habitually fail
     to report on themselves. They also fail to report on the PR
     industry. To do so would reveal the extent of media dependency on
     PR for access, sources, quotes, stories and ideas.
     The fact of this dependency is, of course, common knowledge among
     reporters and PR professionals, and you can find frequent
     references to it in leading trade publications. As an example, take
     the recent review which appeared in O'Dwyer's PR Services Report
     describing our new book, Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn
     Lies and the Public Relations Industry.
     According to O'Dwyer's, the book "carries a loaded title, but is a
     fairly straightforward insider account of the doings of PR
     people.... The book won't startle those working in the PR business,
     but it promises to be a real eye-opener to people who view PR as
     nothing more than harmless press agent puffery."
     If this assessment is correct, PR professionals are even more
     cynical than we imagined when we wrote the book. Toxic Sludge Is
     Good For You describes a giant, secretive propaganda-for-hire
     industry that works behind the scenes to spin the news and twist
     public opinion, networking with spies, infiltrators, Lobbyists and
     influence peddlers to dominate political debate and undermine
     Today's PR firms organize phony "astroturf" grassroots groups that
     lobby for the tobacco, automobile and insurance industries, and
     create biased "video news releases" that often air unedited on the
     evening news, fooling viewers into thinking they're watching TV
     journalism. PR practitioners help the food and chemical industries
     deep-six books about dangerous pesticides, use "greenwashing" to
     divide and conquer environmentalists, and are presently campaigning
     to clean up the image of toxic sewage sludge, renaming it
     "biosolids" and calling it a "vitamin pill for the earth" so sewage
     treatment plants can sell it as fertilizer to unsuspecting American
     One firm, Sawyer/Miller, even masterminded a PR campaign on behalf
     of the government of Colombia, one of the world's most egregious
     human rights abusers and a compliant haven for the world's worst
     drug cartels. By the time Sawyer/Miller got through, President Bill
     Clinton was referring to Colombia as a democratic leader and "one
     of our strongest the effort to free the world of the
     scourge of narcotics trafficking."
     These revelations may shock you, and they ought to shock even
     seasoned flacks, but as O'Dwyer's observes, practices that most
     people find outrageous are simply another day at the office for PR
     megafirms like Burson-Marsteller and Hill & Knowlton. Accusing the
     PR industry of manipulating the truth is like criticizing sharks
     for eating meat, or snakes for poisoning their victims. They do
     what they do because it's in their nature. If God had intended
     otherwise, he wouldn't have given them fangs.
     Actually, the people we ought to be criticizing are the journalists
     who let the PR industry get away with manipulating the truth.
     With the computer information banks and other information resources
     now available, investigative journalism is easier to practice than
     ever before. Reporters could and should use these resources to dig
     behind the scenes, exposing the PR industry's manipulations and the
     scandals that emanate from corporate boardrooms and government
     Instead, we get superficial journalism, news by press release and
     endless regurgitation of easy-to-cover no-brainers like the O.J.
     Simpson case.
     At the very least, the news media ought to offer truth in labeling.
     "News stories" that are merely edited press releases ought to
     include disclaimers identifying the PR firm, government agency or
     corporation that wrote them. Video news releases should include
     subtitles stating "footage supplied by Hill & Knowlton PR."
     C'mon you guys in newsrooms, clean up your act. Do the job you're
     paid for. If you try, you might discover even the public relations
     industry is rooting for you to succeed.
     After all, as PR pro Kirk Hallahan recently observed, new
     technology has already made you superfluous. "Today, with many more
     options available, PR professionals are much less dependent upon
     mass media for publicity," Hallahan stated in the Summer 1994
     Public Relations Quarterly. "In the decade ahead, the largest
     American corporations could underwrite entire, sponsored channels.
     Organizations such as Procter & Gamble might circumvent public
     media altogether and subsidize programming that combines
     promotional and otherwise conducive messages--news, Talk Shows,
     infomercials, or sponsored entertainment or sports.... Channel
     sponsors will be able reach coveted super-heavy users...with a
     highly tailored message over which they exert complete control."
     But Hallahan hopes to preserve a place at the table for the
     traditional news media, and he worries its usefulness may be lost
     if "media organizations cheapen the value of their product.... When
     a news medium covered a story in the past, the information sponsor
     gained more than mere exposure. The client, product or cause gained
     salience, stature and legitimacy."
     That legitimacy will be lost, he warns, if the public ceases to see
     a difference between news and paid propaganda. "While PR people
     might circumvent the press occasionally, we aren't going to want to
     do so all the time," Hallahan writes. "We can't kill the goose that
     laid the golden egg. A loss of public reliance upon and confidence
     in the mass media could be devastating."
    John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton write and edit the quarterly PR Watch:
    Public Interest Reporting on the PR/Public Affairs Industry. Their new
    book, Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public
    Relations Industry, from which this article is excerpted, is being
    published by Common Courage Press.
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    November 22 - November 29, 1995
   Weekly Wire     1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth

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