Statement of Jeffrey S. Wigand, Ph.D., MAT
President, Smoke-Free Kids
Public Hearings for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
October 13, 2000
I am Jeffrey Wigand, Director of Smoke-Free Kids; a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to teaching children about the dangers of tobacco and the tobacco industry. Smoke-Free Kids receives no funds from groups with an economic interest in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). I have more than ten years experience with the tobacco issue, having worked first for the tobacco industry, and then spending my time since 1993 working to publicize the deceitful tobacco industry practices that led to my departure from the company. Since leaving Brown and Williamson, where I was Vice President of Research and Development, I have served as an expert in the US $10 billion libel lawsuit between ABC News and Philip Morris; as well as to the US government, the Canadian government, and most recently to the government of Israel.
Tobacco Industry and the FCTC Process
Director General Brundtland and the nations of the World Health Organization (WHO) are to be commended on their initiation of a legal instrument to address the epidemic of disease caused by tobacco. I would like to warn the WHO and the international political community against allowing the tobacco companies to participate in the development of the FCTC beyond their participation in these public hearings. I have seen firsthand how the tobacco industry works not only to deceive smokers, but also to subvert scientific research, intimidate those who oppose them, and undermine government efforts to protect the public health.
The tobacco industry counts on using its vast economic resources to influence politicians and the government process in order to stave off the one thing that can effectively curb smoking rates: policies that limit tobacco industry activity, activity that is designed to sustain and increase addiction to a deadly but profitable product.
Tobacco industry appeals to join the FCTC process show a desperate desire to influence a process that could have a lasting beneficial impact on public health and a corollary negative impact on tobacco industry profits. This is not an industry that is newly concerned about public health, as their multi-million dollar public relations campaigns would have us believe, but an industry that is still concerned with its public image and its political access. The PR campaigns are the only thing about the industry that has changed in recent years. The tobacco industry has an inherent conflict of interest with the goals of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the World Health Organization: WHO seeks to improve the health of the world’s population; the tobacco industry seeks to maximize profits, at the expense of the health of the world’s population.
The tobacco industry has already turned its marketing focus to the developing world. In the US, Canada, and in Australia, there have been significant gains in tobacco control in recent decades, including widespread clean indoor air laws, and smoking rates that have decreased to about 25 percent in each of those nations. The risk for the tobacco industry is that an effective Framework Convention would help to replicate these successes in developing countries. In 1996, more than 70 percent of cigarettes sold by Philip Morris, and 57 percent of those sold by RJR Nabisco, were sold overseas. In 1997, Philip Morris alone reaped US$4.6 billion in profits on its sales outside the United States the company has increased its international sales by 80 percent since 1990. There are profits to be lost by the multinational tobacco companies if the FCTC is strong and effective.
The World Health Organization itself now knows firsthand of the subversive activities that tobacco companies undertake. In July 2000, WHO released the report of the Committee of Experts on Tobacco Industry Documents, a report called, “Tobacco Company Strategies to Undermine Tobacco Control Activities at the World Health Organization.” Internal tobacco company documents reveal that tobacco companies actually worked to undermine the efforts of the UN agency dedicated to protecting international health working through front groups, infiltrating the agency, working to minimize funding for WHO tobacco control activities. Tobacco companies say they no longer undertake these tactics. Is that plausible, with a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control now at stake? What has changed? Those activities were and are unethical; the tobacco industry had, and still has, a huge financial stake resting on the hope that they have decades of escalating profits ahead in developing countries before governments act to protect the health and economic interests of their people.
Regulation of the tobacco industry is needed, at national and international levels, on several important fronts. Regulation of cigarette ingredients, additives, and methods of nicotine delivery is not only possible, it is essential in protecting the health of all people. Regulation of tobacco promotion of all sorts is imperative as well, to guide the public especially the young through the maze of deception the tobacco companies create.
As Vice President for Research and Development for four years at Brown and Williamson, a BAT subsidiary, I saw firsthand how the industry works to deceive its customers. When I joined the company in 1989, it was with the expectation that I would direct research, including efforts to develop a safer cigarette. Unfortunately, this scientific process was pre-empted by legal/political strategies, and B&W lawyers began to control access to scientific papers, editing minutes of scientific meetings, and stamping much research material as confidential under attorney/client privilege. Ultimately, company executives told me that there would be no further research on a safer cigarette at Brown and Williamson. They explained that any research on a safer cigarette would clearly expose our other tobacco products as being unsafe and, therefore, present a liability issue, making the company more vulnerable to litigation. The scientific integrity of my own work and that of my research staff, some 240 scientists, was compromised when B&W attorneys began to systematically eliminate all references to anything that could be discovered during any kind of liability action any reference to a safer cigarette; anything that would indicate company knowledge that nicotine was addictive. They sent lawyers to scientific meetings where topics ranged from nicotine to fire-safe cigarettes. The legal team edited the minutes of the meetings to omit all references to development of a safer product, even when that meant deleting most of the content of the meeting report.
This action was taken despite private acknowledgement at the highest levels of the company that we were in the “nicotine delivery business and tar is the negative baggage.”
Tobacco companies also manipulate nicotine levels in cigarettes in an effort to keep customers addicted. I know firsthand that efforts were made to change the pH of tobacco through the use of ammonia generating additives, in order to convert total nicotine to free nicotine, so that greater amounts would be pharmacologically active. Tobacco companies utilize blending techniques, changing the ratio of flue-cured to burley tobacco as a way of assuring the appropriate nicotine level. They also change the pH by using ammonia as an additive, to provide increased nicotine uptake by the body. The tobacco industry intentionally uses over 599 chemical additives which facilitate and maintain addiction, ameliorate the harshness of tobacco smoke and increase the effectiveness of nicotine, as well as unintentional residual additives from pesticides, agricultural chemicals, soil bacterial flora and manufacturing processes. Many of these additives when burned generate a more toxic tar then tobacco burned without the inclusion of these additives.
Brown and Williamson even investigated a genetically engineered tobacco called Y-1, a breeding project conducted in New Jersey, and later commercially grown in Brazil by exporting tobacco seed germplasm illegally. The intent behind Y-1 was to manage the tar-to-nicotine ratio. If you can have less mass of tobacco at higher nicotine content, you would essentially be reducing the negative aspects of smoking, as you would be reducing tar while maintaining the nicotine delivery at a constant level. That was a way of managing the tar to nicotine ratios, while lowering the tar yet maintaining the nicotine. Y-1 tobacco was incorporated into some B&W brands.
Another issue I protested while working for the tobacco industry was the continued use of Coumarin in pipe tobacco. Coumarin had been removed from cigarettes when the FDA stopped allowing the use of coumarin as part of its GRAS listed additives in foods and cosmetics when it was shown to be hepatotoxic in dogs and masked foul odors. In 1992 the NTP demonstrated that Coumarin was a lung-specific carcinogen in laboratory mice and rats. Tobacco companies were required to report cigarette ingredients to the US Department of Health and Human Services, so they discontinued using Coumarin in cigarettes. There were no such reporting requirements for the ingredients in pipe tobacco, and Coumarin was not removed from pipe tobacco, despite industry knowledge that it caused pathology in animals and was removed from the GRAS list. B&W continued its use and in addition was specifically outside the Company’s own additive use guidelines. This hazardous chemical was kept as an ingredient in pipe tobacco because the removal of Coumarin would change the taste of the pipe tobacco and, therefore, affect sales. At Brown & Williamson, they continued to use it at least until the time I left in March 1993. The tobacco industry has been manipulating nicotine since long before it ever admitted that nicotine was addictive. Thousands of tobacco industry documents describe the extensive studies that have been carried out on the addictive process. The tobacco industry has gone to great lengths over the years to deceive smokers and to keep them addicted as long as possible.
In response to government attention, the industry strategically offers voluntary agreements in an effort to stave off effective regulatory action. Decision-makers and the public should not be deceived: voluntary agreements are vague, hard to enforce; easy to violate, and serve as a shield and PR instrument for the industry. In every country, their tactics are the same: They will start with piecemeal, voluntary advertising codes to keep marketing restrictions at bay. They will agree to incremental measures such as not marketing near schools, or agree to withdraw cartoon characters; later they will agree not to depict young people, possibly people at all, in their ads. This incremental approach leaves other avenues wide open for these aggressive marketers, and perhaps more important, buys them more time without government oversight, legislative or regulatory action.
In the U.S., the tobacco industry has not stopped at undermining attempts at regulation. In 1964, the team working on the first report of the US Surgeon General asked the tobacco companies for information. They got a cursory reply, and no assistance. In 1981, the US Surgeon General asked the companies for information on additives and low-yield cigarettes for another Surgeon General’s report. Again, they did not get useful material. And now, with greater access to internal tobacco industry documents, we know that tobacco companies conducted extensive research on addiction, nicotine, and additives that would have been valuable to both the government and the public.
The FCTC can suggest minimum standards for national tobacco regulations, including policies in areas such as product content and additives, marketing, clean indoor air, tobacco industry access to youth, and excise taxes. The FCTC can provide a consistent baseline in different policy areas for governments as they seek to appropriately regulate this powerful industry.
Tobacco-related disease exists in every country. Sharing technical knowledge internationally is not just common sense, it is essential to ensure that those entrusted with guarding the public health everywhere are able to utilize best practices in addressing the scourge caused by tobacco companies. This means conveying internationally knowledge of tobacco industry behavior and tactics. It means understanding what types of regulatory action are effective against the industry, and what governments can do to protect their people from transnational companies intent on increasing profit at any cost but their own.
Children are the mainstays of the tobacco industry. Youth is the key to tobacco industry expansion. In order for tobacco industry profits to be sustained and to rise; in order for company stock to thrive, the tobacco companies must have replacement smokers smokers who take the place of those who quit, but mostly those who die from a tobacco-related disease. In terms of maximizing profit, children are the most efficient replacement smokers. I heard firsthand from the highest officials at Brown & Williamson that the company philosophy towards children is simply this: “Hook ‘em young, hook ‘em for life.”
Ages of smoking initiation are falling in developing countries around the world. Young girls, who have never smoked in some cultures, are now becoming addicted at alarming rates. The tobacco industry has been targeting women since Philip Morris tried to market Marlboros to women in 1926. Now they have stepped up those efforts, and exported their tactics to include a focus on women in developing countries. Tobacco industry internal documents are filled with examples confirming the fact that tobacco companies market to young boys and girls. With an addictive product, an early start can mean a customer for life.
The industry markets cigarettes as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. Industry-sponsored youth prevention programs, with slogans such as “Smoking is an adult custom,” merely underscore the push to market the product as an adult choice rather than expose it as a deadly addiction. Children are hooked initially with an IMAGE, then a highly addictive substance, NICOTINE, replaces that image.
Policies including increased excise taxes and comprehensive advertising and promotion bans are a significant step toward protecting children from tobacco addiction. Of course, such restrictions should address the effect of advertising (i.e., that it reaches children) rather than the alleged intent (i.e., that it may be aimed at young adults).
Since I left Brown and Williamson and began working to protect children from the tobacco companies, I have been investigated, I have been threatened, and my daughters have been threatened. The tobacco industry is used to getting its own way. I hope my work shows that it is possible for an individual to stand up to the tobacco industry, and to do what is right. The FCTC is the right thing to do to protect our children and our children’s children. Tobacco must and needs to be denormalized throughout the world.
It is at least as possible for a government to stand up to the tobacco industry. I ask you to forge and adopt a meaningful Framework Convention on Tobacco Control for the sake of the health of the world’s children a Framework Convention in which compliance is monitored and the tobacco industry is held accountable for its actions. And I remind you that the tobacco industry is at best simply a disease vector, and has no place at the table in the formulation of this landmark public health treaty. Thank you.