THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY AND THE HEALTH RISKS
The TMA and the Harrogate Research facility
49. The memorandum from the Tobacco Manufacturers'
Association outlines the research conducted by, or on behalf of,
It notes that in 1954, following the announcement by the Minister
of Health referred to above,
the tobacco companies funded a research grant of £250,000
to the Medical Research Council (MRC) to enable further investigation
into smoking and health issues. The companies did not control
the projects selected by the MRC for funding. The Tobacco Manufacturers'
Standing Committee (TMSC), established in 1956, had no control
and attached "no strings" to the grantees of the MRC
controlled money. In 1959 it decided to implement research which
it could direct itself and opened a purpose-built laboratory in
Harrogate in September 1962. The TMA's evidence states that "the
programme was concerned to investigate which, if any, properties
of tobacco products might be responsible for the reported health
risks associated with smoking, and how the products might be modified
to reduce such risks". The Tobacco Research Council (TRC)
succeeded the TMSC in 1963 to reflect the fact that the TMSC had
decided "to conduct its own smoking and health research programme".
The core activity of the TRC, conducted at Harrogate, was to "obtain
as much information as possible about the chemical nature of smoke"
by means of a mouse skin-painting programme to measure "biological
activity" in mouse skin caused by cigarette smoke condensate.
By 1969 "the major part of the TRC's research effort at Harrogate
was concerned with the search for compounds in cigarette smoke
with potential biological activity by fractionating the whole
smoke and cigarette smoke" [ie breaking it down into its
constituent parts]. The research was abandoned in 1970; the published
review of activities noted: "this work ... has been taken
as far as it profitably can."
50. Some observers have been cynical about the industry's
motives in conducting research: the BMA's memorandum states that
"In public, the industry maintained that the primary aim
of this research was to help resolve the 'controversy' surrounding
tobacco and health. In private, however, the industry-sponsored
research was directed with an eye to reducing the likelihood of
future liability actions".
A question that we believe should be considered is why the companies
abandoned their strategy of joint research aimed at reducing or
eliminating carcinogens from tobacco smoke. BAT emphasised in
its analysis that the purpose of Harrogate was not to establish
whether tobacco condensate could produce cancer in animal test
models, a fact already "amply reported" in the scientific
literature, but to identify "the chemical constituents of
tobacco smoke primarily responsible for the mouse skin tumorigenicity
and to investigate cigarette design modifications which might
reduce the specific tumorigenicity".
According to the published reports of the TRC the Harrogate scientists
got as far as determining that the carcinogens could be concentrated
into "a single fraction representing only 0.2% by weight
of the condensate".
51. The companies agree that the task was abandoned
when it became obvious that cigarette smoke was too complex to
analyse sufficiently precisely so as to be able to eliminate specific
carcinogens. Gallaher commented that in 1957 cigarette smoke was
identified as containing "some twenty constituents or groups
of constituents"; as analytical techniques improved "more
than three thousand five hundred constituents have been identified".
A slightly different emphasis on what occurred at Harrogate was
taken by Mr Martyn Day who has enjoyed unique access to the companies'
"It is very clear that
the industry originally in the fifties and sixties thought there
was something that they could do. They thought that they could
extract the carcinogen to make the tobacco harmless and they should
be doing that ostensibly. But as time wore on and they looked
at more and more possibilities, it became clear that that was
not the case, that there was nothing, apart from getting a totally
new substance, that could make smoking harmless. As was said by
Imperial, all that happened with this research was that the health
community used the material ... and they felt that this was simply
being used against them."
Mr Day suggested that, from his memory of internal
documents, Imperial and Philip Morris "were very clear that
they wanted this research organization closed down ... it was
producing research that was always being leaked by their opponents".
He told us that by the mid 1970s the companies felt that "harmony"
had been reached: the severe regulatory pressures that they had
feared once the true hazards of smoking had become apparent had
not materialized and the companies felt "they could live
within the confines of any regulator's line".
52. We wanted to pursue with the Tobacco Manufacturers'
Association (TMA) the extent to which the TRC had in fact succeeded
in identifying any carcinogens in tobacco smoke. Mr David Swan,
Chief Executive of the TMA, however, was unable to help us "interpret
In its memorandum the TMA pointed out that "No-one who was
involved in the joint industry research programme is employed
by the TMA. The TMA is therefore not able to offer any first-hand
knowledge of the matters discussed".
Nevertheless, a substantial section of the memorandum is taken
up by an account of the activity of the TRC, the TMA's predecessor
body. We find it inherently unsatisfactory that the trade association
of the tobacco companies was unable to comment on the research
activities of its predecessor body. It seems to us that this is
symptomatic of a more general failure by the industry as a whole
to take responsibility for the effect of its activities.
53. We also find extremely unconvincing the explanation
that the Harrogate research stopped simply because analytical
techniques improved to such an extent that researchers were able
to analyse ever-smaller components. In the 28 years that have
passed since the laboratories have closed it would, in our view,
have been perfectly possible for the tobacco companies, with all
the resources at their disposal, to analyse the carcinogens in
tobacco smoke and develop technology to make their product safer.
Much more plausible, to us, is the explanation that the companies
realized that they would not, ultimately, face severe regulatory
pressures and could afford to wind down health-related research.
54. In analysing the past and present record of the
tobacco industry's response to the health risks of smoking we
have observed a pattern. It seems to us that the companies have
sought to undermine the scientific consensus until such time as
that position appears ridiculous. So the companies now generally
accept that smoking is dangerous (but put forward distracting
arguments to suggest that epidemiology is not an exact science,
so that the figures for those killed by tobacco may be exaggerated);
are equivocal about nicotine's addictiveness; and are still attempting
to undermine the argument that passive smoking is dangerous. The
current exceptions to this - based on the evidence they gave us
- are firstly Philip Morris who claim no longer to comment on
these issues except to protect themselves in law and secondly
Imperial who claim not to know whether smoking is dangerous or
55. There is some evidence that, as far as the public
is concerned, what the companies actually say no longer matters.
The Consumers' Association surveyed attitudes to smoking and found
that "mistrust of tobacco companies is high". Some 56%
of respondents agreed with the statement "I don't trust tobacco
companies" whilst only 16% disagreed with it.
Tobacco companies are commercial enterprises whose imperatives
have nothing in common with the public health community. Their
past records of denial and obfuscation militate against any claims
they may make towards scientific objectivity. We find ourselves
most strongly agreeing with the viewpoint expressed by Dr Axel
Gietz, Vice President of R J Reynolds Tobacco (UK) Limited: "we
are aware that we do produce and market a very controversial product
... what we do in terms of product development ... is much more
important than anything we say".
We believe it is for public health authorities to measure the
risks of smoking and to set appropriate regulatory parameters.
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