10.10 The tobacco industry exposed: tobacco industry document repositories

Last updated: June 2017

Suggested citation: Freeman, B and Winstanley, M. 10.10 The tobacco industry exposed: tobacco industry document repositories. In Scollo, MM and Winstanley, MH [editors]. Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria; 2016. Available from http://www.tobaccoinaustralia.org.au/chapter-10-tobacco-industry/10-10-the-tobacco-industry-exposed-tobacco-industr

The preceding sections detail the size, scope and other publicly available vital statistics for the tobacco industry in Australia. The following sections of Chapter 10 examine the way in which the tobacco industry operates in Australia and elsewhere, including its interaction with governments, non-government organisations, commercial enterprises, industry groups, the media and the public.

During the 1990s millions of pages of internal tobacco industry documents were made public, mostly as an outcome of litigation against the industry. The first tranche of internal documents, originating from the US firm Brown & Williamson and its parent company, British American Tobacco, was delivered unsolicited to Stanton Glantz, a professor of public health at the University of California (San Francisco). Further documentation was obtained from Brown & Williamson by US Congress, and more came from the private papers of a deceased British American Tobacco employee.1

Further documents flooded into the public arena as a result of document discovery associated with tobacco litigation cases such as Cipillone v. Liggett Group.2 As part of the settlement in 1997 between the State of Minnesota and Blue Cross/Blue Shield against several tobacco companies (in which the states sued to recover the costs of treating tobacco-related disease), the companies were obliged to release several million pages of internal documents and make them available for public viewing. These documents werei stored in the Minnesota Tobacco Document Depository, opened in 1998, and in the Guildford Document Depository in the UK. The Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 between 46 US states and Brown & Williamson, British American Tobacco, Lorillard, Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute led to the discovery of further industry documents.2 Subsequent US-based litigation has made yet more document collections available.3 Two major gateway sites to industry documents are the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents (formerly known as Legacy Tobacco Documents Library) hosted by the University of California San Francisco Library and Center for Knowledge Management and the industry-run tobaccoarchives.com.ii However repositories may be accessed through a number of different websites including those operated by individual tobacco companies.iii

These previously confidential industry documents have allowed scrutiny of the tobacco industry's priorities, policies and activities. Marketing practices have been exposed, including information on targeting young smokers. Lobbying strategies to further the industry's interests have been uncovered. The documents also prove that the industry has long known about the health effects of smoking, the danger of secondhand smoke and the addictiveness of nicotine.2

A variety of tobacco industry activities in Australia have come to light through investigation of documents released as a result of the Master Settlement Agreement. These have been analysed by Simon Chapman and colleagues at the School of Public Health in the University of Sydney, with grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council and the US National Institutes of Health. Chapman et al have undertaken the research with the dual intentions of revealing industry strategies and behaviours that may assist tobacco control advocacy elsewhere, and collating material on the industry's conduct in Australia, with a view to providing documentation in support of prospective litigants.iv 4

While offering a wellspring of potentially useful information, it has been observed that accessing the documents—whether in hard copy or online—may be far from straightforward.3 Further, since the companies pursued policies of document concealment or destruction in anticipation of legal discovery, the repositories do not contain complete industry records.4, 5 However the documents have provided rare and compelling insights into tobacco industry behaviour, and much of the published research cited in the following sections of this chapter draws on these sources. New research papers that use the documents as a key data source are regularly published and a database of this work is also maintained on the Truth documents site.v

i The Guildford Depository was closed on 31st October 2015. All documents were moved to a long term storage facility. See http://www.bat.com/group/sites/UK__9D9KCY.nsf/vwPagesWebLive/DO9YXBZF?opendocument.

ii See: https://www.industrydocumentslibrary.ucsf.edu/tobacco/ and http://www.tobaccoarchives.com/default.html

iii  In 3. Malone R and Balbach ED. Tobacco industry documents: Treasure trove or quagmire? Tobacco Control, 2000; 9(3):334-8. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/extract/9/3/334

iv A series of publications reporting on industry documents pertaining to Australia appears in Tobacco Control 2003:12 (suppl. 3). Industry documents identified by Chapman et al that relate to Australia are available on the Tobacco Control Supersite at http://old.tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/site/gateway/docs/   

v See the site "Bibliography" section: https://www.industrydocumentslibrary.ucsf.edu/tobacco/biblio/  

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1. Glantz S, Slade J, Bero L, Hanauer P and Barnes D. The Cigarette Papers. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

2. Bero L. Implications of the tobacco industry documents for public health and policy. Annual Review of Public Health 2003;24(Nov 6):267-88. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12415145

3. Malone R and Balbach ED. Tobacco industry documents: treasure trove or quagmire? Tobacco Control 2000;9(3):334-8. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/content/extract/9/3/334

4. Chapman S, Byrne F and Carter SM. 'Australia is one of the darkest markets in the world': the global importance of Australian tobacco control. Tobacco Control 2003;12(suppl. 3):iii1-3. Available from: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/cgi/reprint/12/suppl_3/iii1

5. McDaniel PA, Smith EA and Malone RE. Philip Morris's Project Sunrise: weakening tobacco control by working with it. Tobacco Control 2006;15(3):215–23. Available from: http://tc.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/abstract/15/3/215