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I often write that the science supporting global warming is every bit as strong as the science that proves smoking causes cancer. But I then go even further by linking the fossil fuel and tobacco industries, suggesting deeper sins, claiming that oil companies actually stole a page from the tobacco industry by hiring right-wing and libertarian think tanks to confuse the uninitiated. On anti-science web sites, such an argument is called emotional and scientifically dubious.

Well, it is an emotional argument. But it’s also true. I make the link because the two industries are intimately connected, and they’ve made the connection.

Tobacco Ethics

In the 1990s, concerns over secondhand smoke were informing tough new anti-smoking regulations. So the tobacco industry boldly established a number of bogus and phony institutes comprised of sock puppets and tobacco industry public relations experts whose sole job was to convince as many people as they could that the science on secondhand smoke wasn’t conclusive. These groups were in the business of manufacturing doubt.

Even then, the medical evidence that dangerous carcinogens are present in sidestream smoke was overwhelming. As one expert epidemiologist noted at the time, the only way to make the smoking evidence stronger would be to conduct repeated and prolonged forced smoking experiments on human subjects, and measure how many illnesses they suffered as a result.

It’s obvious that tobacco companies don’t give a rat’s ass for the lives they destroyed. Even in 2009, these purveyors of doom and misery are still trying to hook generation after generation both here and in the developing world — they have always preyed upon the poor.

But here’s something so many poorly-informed climate deniers don’t seem to understand. When many of these sock puppets were creating their anything-for-a-buck institutes, they planned for the future. Perhaps knowing that the tobacco fight would soon be lost, they solicited second and third industries to replace the first. They knew that Exxon-Mobil would be happy to work alongside Philip Morris and that both would pay to keep the lights on.

And so when they drew up their tobacco disinformation campaigns, their argument held that second-hand smoke was junk science, no more to be believed than the junk science suggesting that heavy pesticides use is harmful to humans, or the junk science proving that CO2 emissions were warming the planet.

Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the body of fact that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means for establishing controversy.

• Smoking & Health Proposal • Brown and Williamson

A dozen years later, right-wing think tanks with consequential names like the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Heartland Institute still run these sophisticated PR campaigns, using a practice now known as astroturfing. The whole point of their tactics are to run interference, and convince enough people that climate scientists are still debating the science of global warming, just as they did 15 years ago with secondhand smoke.


Big Oil and Big Tobacco: Marriage Made in PR Heaven

Every single one of these institutes takes has taken serious money from oil companies, as the Union of Concerned Scientists and Exxon Secrets relate. It should go without saying that in the world of scientific endeavor, this fact alone should marginalize their debating points. If your bills were being paid by ExxonMobil and Shell, are you really likely to write a treatise entitled Goodbye Amsterdam, Mumbai, and Miami?

Yet deniers still hold to discredited orthodoxy, suggesting that the money isn’t the issue, it’s the quality of their research that matters — a courtesy they refuse to extend to other scientists. This position is hopelessly naive. Let’s forget for the moment that these institutes don’t conduct ANY scientific research at all. Let’s judge them by the company they keep, and by the things that they say, and understand that that they’d sell their own mothers to line their pockets.

The Heartland Institute runs the annual International Conference on Climate Change — a skeptics conference in New York — but they’re also the go-to think tank for the tobacco industry. They currently list five tobacco policy experts on their web site, and they are noted repeatedly in Philip Morris documents as playing a crucial role in disinformation campaigns. The Heartland Institute is run by Joseph Bast who has written (in a self-published book) that secondhand smoke isn’t a health issue.

Anti-smoking activists give smokers a stark choice: Stop smoking or die! In fact, there is a third path: Reduce the harm by shifting to less-hazardous kinds of tobacco products. For example, moving from unfiltered to filtered cigarettes, and from regular to “low tar” cigarettes, both appear to reduce the risk of lung cancer….

And later in the same book:

No victim of cancer, heart disease, etc. can “prove” his or her cancer or heart disease was caused by exposure to secondhand smoke.

The Cato Institute is also notable for its ties to big tobacco and big oil. RJ Reynolds documents indicate that the group’s executive have been drafted to support the tobacco industry by writing pro-tobacco editorials, and appearing on television and radio as tobacco experts. The group insists that the cigarettes are unfairly taxed, and that the reported death rate attributed to smoking is wildly inflated. The Cato Institute has also argued that smoking bans infringe on personal liberty, and that health risks from secondhand smoke are debatable.

The Cato Institute employs Steve Milloy, who runs the web site Junk Science, and who moonlights as a pundit on Fox News, so although he’s not a scientist, he does pretend to be one on TV. He equates environmentalism with Nazism, he has worked as a lobbyist for Philip Morris, and for a Morris front group — now defunct — called the The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, so at least we know he has a sense of humor. He also claims that dioxin, pesticides in foods, environmental lead, asbestos, secondhand tobacco smoke and global warming can be categorized as scares and scams, and that all climate scientists at the IPCC are lying in order to attract more funding for their research. Since he has just published a book called Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Ruin your life and What You Can Do to Stop Them, it seems Milloy does know a thing or two about lying to attract more funding.

The American Enterprise Institute charged the tobacco industry $25,000 to write a report supporting their position, and they’ve frequently taken money from major tobacco and oil companies. In 2007, they AEI offered scientists $10,000 to write articles that would “undermine a major climate change report” written by the IPCC. Lee Raymond, former Exxon CEO, is a vice-chairman at the AEI, and several of the policy makers at the AEI have worked for Philip Morris, or for the oil industry.

Over the last few years, new astroturfing sites devoted to climate change have emerged, including the Friends of Science, The Fraser Institute, and the Science and Public Policy Institute. They do not accept money from the likes of Philip Morris, but they are waist-deep in big oil money, and not surprisingly, do everything they can to the support industries that are driving climate change.

If you think global warming is a scam, then this is the company you keep. And I’m not really sure how you sleep at night.


You’ll notice an absence of links. Every link that blogs give to a right-wing think tank would boost their web traffic, and I’m not going to help them lie to North Americans.

You’ll also note the many links to Sourcewatch. Might I suggest a donation to support the work they do?

7 Responses to “Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Coal”

  1. A good related book that came out recently is “The Tyranny of Oil” by Antonia Juhasz
    Covers the history of the oil industry; Standard Oil’s stranglehold on the U.S. government in the late 1800s and early 1900s, till anti trust laws finally took some of the wind out of their sails. Now we have mega oil companies as a result of Reagan undoing antil trust laws and paving the way for big mergers. They’re back in spades with more power than ever.

  2. johnnyb says:

    Maybe people like tobacco and oil which is why they buy it. Secondhand smoke is junk science so is Global Warming. Too bad there are too many stupid suckers like yourslf who are willing to throw away liberty and prosperity based on a hoax.

  3. Richard says:

    Johnny B… perhaps you’d like to volunteer to be the man who proves that secondhand smoke isn’t harmful.

    We’ll lock you you in a small, sealed room, and pump in the smoke from 300 cigarettes every hour, eight hours per day, and we’ll see how you do over the course of a couple of years.


    No, I didn’t think so.

    Scientists are sure that secondhand smoke is carcinogenic, and that climate change is happening now.

    And I don’t want your liberty or your prosperity. I just want you to stop destroying the planet. There are solutions if you’d pull you head out of the sand long enough to figure that out.

  4. John Hollenberg says:

    > Maybe people like tobacco and oil which is why they buy it. Secondhand smoke is junk science so is Global Warming.

    Must be tongue in cheek, because otherwise he just sealed your argument about the common tactics used by the tobacco industry and Big Oil.

  5. Richard,
    I think you’ve found the last few people on earth who still think smoking is harmless. I wonder if there’s a scientific paper in this – akin to finding some isolated tribe in some previously unexplored corner of the world.

  6. Richard says:

    Thanks John H and John K…

    I’ve actually been shocked by the number of people recently who have recently claimed that tobacco smoke isn’t harmful. It happened on one blog, and on the comments section of our provincial newspaper.

    It’s been a seriously strange week.

  7. IQ-Kanone says:

    Hey, ok, I get it, I guess – but does this really work?