The American Cancer Society accused the tobacco industry Tuesday of infiltrating the agency in the 1970s to learn how it planned to address the idea of safer cigarettes.
The cancer society said it discovered its private papers, dating to October 1979, in Philip Morris documents unveiled last week by The New York Times.
Memos show the papers apparently were obtained by the industry’s Tobacco Institute one month before the cancer society’s board of directors was to vote on how to address new low-nicotine cigarettes. They indicate “an important change in position,” an industry official apparently scrawled on a Tobacco Institute memo accompanying the papers.
The Tobacco Institute declined comment Tuesday. Philip Morris spokesman Victor Han couldn’t say how the industry received the documents. He said, however, “there’s nothing anywhere in the documents … that indicates it was obtained in any kind of inappropriate fashion.”
But the cancer society urged Congress to investigate whether “we have a multibillion-dollar industry using every above-the-board and below-the-board tactic possible … to undermine the work of institutions dedicated to saving lives,” ACS President Dr. LaMar McGinnis said.
In 1979, studies had just shown that people who smoked low-nicotine cigarettes had lower death rates and could more easily kick the habit.
Cancer society officials wrote that they didn’t want to “be perceived as endorsing low … nicotine brands or encouraging smokers to switch rather than quit.” So they suggested telling Americans: “There is no cigarette that is safe to smoke,” but those who simply can’t quit should switch to lower-nicotine brands.