Cigarette makers pioneered many of our black arts of disinformation, including the funding of research to distract from the hazards of smoking. Ten Nobel prizes were the result. By funding distraction research, the cigarette industry became an important source of academic corruption, helping also to forge other forms of denialism on a global scale.

Friday, 19 December 2014: 11:00 AM
Robert N. Proctor, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States
Cigarette Disinformation: Origins and Global Impact

Robert N. Proctor

The cigarette is the deadliest artifact in the history of human civilization. And whereas “only” a hundred million people died in the 20th century from smoking, we are presently on a pace to have several times that toll in the present century. Much of that catastrophe would not be possible without a massive campaign of disinformation. The cigarette industry pioneered many of the black arts of disinformation, cleverly exploiting the inherent skepticism of science to claim that “more research” was needed to resolve a purported “cigarette controversy.” Cigarette makers funded hundreds of millions of dollars worth of “distraction research,” most of which was solid empirical science but off topic, focusing on basic biology and biochemistry, viral and genetic causes of disease, and other “cigarette friendly” topics. At least ten Nobel prizes were the result. Cigarette skepticism was thus more complex than we normally imagine: the tobacco industry corrupted science by funding “alternative causation,” meaning anything that could be used to draw attention away from cigarettes as a source of disease. The cigarette industry by this means became the most important source of academic corruption since the Nazi era. That corruption has also helped forge other forms of denialism and corruption on a global scale.