“Doubt is our product” – fascinating memo on the tobacco industry’s PR strategy

I’m not sure how I stumbled upon this document but its contents were illuminating.

The document is a memo from Brown & Williamson, a then-subsidiary of British American Tobacco, reviewing the current state of the tobacco industry’s public relations and proposing next steps.

The Tobacco Institute has probably done a good job for us in the area of politics and as an industry we also seem to have done very well in turning out scientific information to counter the anti-smoking claims.

Yet, trends were moving against the industry:

We are restricted in terms of ability to sell — in colleges and in vending machines. Our products are branded with a warning label. Our ability to advertise has been attacked on all fronts and has consistently deteriorated.

But people want to smoke — and doubt gives them an easy excuse:

Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.

Even then — 40+ years ago — it was clear that “pro-cigarette science” was pseudo-science:

Unfortunately, we cannot take a position directly opposing the anti-cigarette forces and say that cigarettes are a contributor to good health. No information that we have supports such a claim.

So let’s focus on the arena of public opinion!

Finally, a series of studies are proposed to understand exactly which messages most effectively create anti-smoking sentiment, and then to find the best means “of anticipating and countering the release of misinformation.

Fascinating stuff. Here’s the original document, courtesy of UCSF.

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