Healthy Buildings International
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
Healthy Buildings International (HBI) was international company of indoor air quality consultants who worked almost exclusively for the tobacco industry for many decades. The founders were English, but they operated mainly in the USA, before extending their operations to Australia, Asia, and Europe It had previously been known as ACVA (both ACVA Atlantic and ACVA Pacific) when it was a partnership with Peter Binnie; Gray Roberson later took the company over and brought in his brother to run the Australian operations.
It then became known as Health Buildings International (HBI). And under its director Gray Robertson, it worked closely with the tobacco industry to encourage corporations not to ban smoking, but instead look for other causes of indoor air pollution. To carry out this strategy, HBI promoted the use of the term "Sick Building Syndrome".
|A major scam of the tobacco industry was to label high-rise buildings and offices as 'sick-buildings' in order to force the owners and occupiers to increase the rate of air-exchange, and therefore reduce the discomfort from passive smoking without blaming cigarettes. This problem arose from the rapid rise of energy costs in the 1980s and 90s, when the rate of air-exchange was kept deliberately low to save energy bills, resulting in increased complaints from non-smokers and smokers suffering eye problems and headaches. The aim of identifying buildings as 'sick' was to scapegoat air-conditioning maintenance and air-exchange rates as the cause of the problem, rather than passive smoke. A whole corrupt industry was constructed around this thesis; unions and equipment manufacturers also benefitted financially.|
|This propaganda was coupled with funding of IAQ-testing companies to produce loaded reports|
In the mid to late 1980s, information about the dangers of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) became widespread, and started diminishing the social acceptability of smoking worldwide. This led to an increase in legislated and voluntary smoking restrictions, which, in turn, led to fewer and fewer locations where people could smoke. The tobacco industry perceived in the secondhand smoke issue a massive threat to its profitability. Those inside the industry knew, though, that tobacco interests could not act on their own behalf on the issue, because acting in its own self-interest would render it completely lacking in credibility. The remedy was to deflect attention away from secondhand smoke entirely by employing a highly visible, and credible, third party to publicly focus on the broader issue of indoor air pollution in general.
ACVA Atlantic started out as a small firm that inspected and cleaned office Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. The Tobacco Institute and Philip Morris in particular found an effective voice in Gray Robertson, head of ACVA Atlantic (Air Conditioning Ventilation Associates Atlantic), that specialized in indoor building environments.
In return for tobacco industry support, Gray Robertson began a widespread campaign to deflect attention away from environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) as a point source of indoor air pollution, by broadening the issue into one of indoor air pollution in general ("ventilation"). Robertson promoted what he called "Sick Building Syndrome," building it into a widely touted national concern featured in the late 1980s in magazines and electronic media. The tobacco industry sent Robertson on national media tours, employed him to give "expert testimony" at public hearings to help defeat clean indoor air legislation, to write articles debunking the notion that cigarette smoke indoors was a serious problem, and to give "informational" presentations on the industry's spin on indoor air issues to policymakers and employees of regulatory agencies. The tobacco industry eventually assumed the financing of Robertson's business, re-naming it Healthy Buildings International (HBI). They set up HBI satellite offices, and began to promote HBI internationally, using it effectively to help combat voluntary and regulatory smoking restrictions in countries around the world.
Some Tobacco industry documents
1990 Jun 12 The Tobacco Institute of Australia conducted preliminary talks with Gray Robertson about opening an Australian branch of his firm (HBI). At week's end, Mr Robertson and his brother (Joe), who resides in Sydney and would manage the branch, had shaken hands on an agreement whereby the TIA would provide seed money and a consulting contract with the firm. In turn the branch ACVA Pacific would work in much the same way it does in the US .. speaking out publicly on the issue of ETS. Type in Bates Number: 506303236
Healthy Buildings International
9401 Mathy Drive
Fairfax, Virginia 22031-5311
tel: (703) 323 4400
fax: (703) 323 4440
email: hbiAThbiamerica.com (Substitute an "@" sign for the word "AT")
Web site: http://www.hbiamerica.com
Additional tobacco industry secondhand smoke schemes and programs:
- Philip Morris' Project Brass
- Philip Morris' Whitecoat Project
- Philip Morris' Ninja Program
- Philip Morris' Latin Project
- ETS (Environmental tobacco smoke) Media Strategy
- Tobacco industry PR strategies: Changing the focus
- Tobacco industry PR strategies: Broadening the issue
- TobaccoScam web site Ventilation Hoax: Hired Guns: Healthy Buildings International, accessed May 1, 2008
- Chapman S, Penman A "Can’t stop the boy": Philip Morris’ use of Healthy Buildings International to prevent workplace smoking bans in AustraliaTobacco Control 2003;12:iii107
- Tobacco Institute Indoor Air Quality Program Confidential report. Undated. Bates No. TIDN0011761/1769
- Myron Levin, Los Angeles Times Indoor air consultant settles whistleblower suit July 2, 1998. Bates No. 2063798249/8250
- Healthy Buildings International Healthy Buildings International Launch an Interactive, Web-based Training Seminar on Moulds in Commercial Buildings Press release. July 15, 2004
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