NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Tobacco companies conspired internationally to mislead the public regarding the dangers of cigarette smoking and to increase sales among the most vulnerable groups of people, according to UK researchers.
``The industry is not to be trusted; they are driven by a commercial imperative that will always run completely contrary to the public health interest,'' Professor Gerard Hastings from the Centre for Tobacco Control Research, University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, told Reuters Health.
Hastings and associate Lynn MacFadyen examined internal documents covering tobacco-related business in five UK advertising agencies. ``The papers demonstrate the abject failure of voluntary controls,'' Hastings said.
Agency documents clearly show the targeting of young people, women and the poor, and the use of advertising and promotion to increase consumption, not simply to increase market share, the authors note in the August 5th issue of the British Medical Journal.
``The only solution is statutory regulation, with the overt aim of removing all tobacco marketing,'' Hastings concluded. ''This regulation has to be powerful, comprehensive and flexible.''
In a second article, Neil Francey from Wentworth Chambers in Sydney, Australia and Simon Chapman from the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control in Carlton, Australia, review tobacco industry documents published in compliance with court orders in the United States and the UK.
According to the authors, these documents ``...disclose that in 1977 seven of the world's major tobacco companies conspired to promote 'controversy' over smoking and disease, in an exercise called Operation Berkshire.''
After its inception in 1981, the International Tobacco Information Centre ``...established steering groups for subsequent world conferences and other task forces to undermine public health efforts to convey the dangers associated with smoking,'' the report indicates.
The documents indicate that the companies conspired to mislead the public regarding the dangers of cigarette smoking, despite the fact that the association of smoking with serious disease had been accepted by many companies at least since the late 1970s, note Francey and Chapman.
``While not earth shattering to people who have observed the tobacco industry over the years, the fact that these conclusions are based on the industry's own words makes them compelling to policymakers, the public, and...the courts,'' writes Stanton Glantz from the Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco, in a related commentary.
``They are driven by a commercial imperative that will always run completely contrary to the public health interest,'' argued Hastings. ``Whilst it is clearly impractical to ban tobacco, all activities--from marketing communications to pricing strategies and product design--that are intended to make smoking more appealing should be outlawed.''
SOURCE: British Medical Journal 2000;321:313-314, 366-371, 371-374.