Philip Morris on the First Surgeon Generals Report in 1964

George Weissman was Chairman and CEO of Philip Morris 1964

George Weissman was Chairman and CEO of Philip Morris 1964

January, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of the first U.S. Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health in 1964. The report was America’s first widely publicized, official recognition that cigarette smoking causes cancer and other serious diseases.

How did the tobacco industry react to that first report?

Barely three weeks after the Surgeon General issued the first Report on Smoking and Health to the public on January 11, 1964, George Weissman, President of the Philip Morris Tobacco Company (PM), sent this 3-page, confidential memo to Joseph Cullman III, PM’s Chair and Chief Executive Officer, on January 29, 1964. The memo reveals PM’s internal reaction to the report.

Weissman refers to the Surgeon General’s Report as a “propaganda blast” and launches into a list of ideas about how the industry can counteract it.  He suggests that the industry “take the initiative in securing a mild federal labeling act to thwart the efforts of the various states” to require health warning labels on cigarettes.

Weissman also suggests the industry work clandestinely to make fun of the Surgeon General’s health concerns, saying:

“While it should not be done in the industry’s name, someone ought to be contacting all the cartoonists, television gag writers, satirical reviews, etc., to apply the light touch to this question…”

As if this wasn’t enough, Wiessman suggested the industry’s next move, which turned out in all deadly seriousness to be the tobacco company’s chosen direction for decades:

“…[W]e must in the near future provide some answers which will give smokers a psychological crutch and a self-rationale to continue smoking…”

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