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International Committee on Smoking Issues

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

The International Committee on Smoking Issues (ICOSI) was a group formed by the world's major transnational tobacco companies in 1977 to address problems the companies had in common as a result of the linkage between smoking and disease: the declining social acceptability of smoking, allegations that secondhand smoke harms non-smokers, an increasing body of medical research showing cigarettes cause disease, and attempts by governments to restrict tobacco advertising.

ICOSI developed out of a conference of tobacco companies put together at the direction of R William Murray known as '"Bill Murray"' who a few years later became the Chairman and CEO of Philip Morris. The first conference was organised by his staff under the code-name Operation Berkshire. ICOSI was originally run by Mary Covington who was the daughter of the founder of Philip Morris's major law-firm (at that time) Covington & Burling.

At a later time, ICOSI ran out of steam, and it's role was eventually transferred to a new international organisation, based in Brussels, known as INFOTAB which was run by Bryan Simpson, said to be a nephew-by-marriage of Rupert Murdoch. Simpson was a professional media lobbyist who originally ran the Media Council of Australia trying to retain cigarette advertising in the newspapers Down Under. Simpson's operations, both in Australia and later in Brussels, were effectively run by Philip Morris's Corporate Affairs executive Andrew Whist. Bill Murray and Andrew Whist. So ICOSI and INFOTAB through various mechanisms retained a close relationship with the most active lobbyists at Philip Morri; of course it helped that Rupert Murdoch also sat on the PM board.

Members

ICOSI membership consisted of seven major transational tobacco manufacturers worldwide. They were: British American Tobacco, Philip Morris (PM), R.J. Reynolds (RJR), Carrera Rothmans, Gallaher, Imperial Tobacco and Reentsma tobacco companies (representing the U.S., the U.K. and Germany). ICOSI encouraged smaller, more local tobacco companies in less developed countries around the world to form National Manufacturer Associations (NMAs, lobbying and trade organizations similar to the Tobacco Institute in the U.S.) where these companies were not already organized to fight public health authorities. Other ICOSI members included Verband der Cigaretten Industry (German cigarette industry), Philip Morris Europe, the Tobacco Advisory Council (British version of the Tobacco Institute), Donald K. Hoel (attorney with Shook, Hardy and Bacon, a U.S. law firm that worked for PM), the Tobacco Institute, Philip Morris Australia and Leonard S. Zahn (a public relations consultant).[1]

Description

The major transnational tobacco companies formed ICOSI to unify their response and facilitate the coordination of countermeasures to fight difficult health issues facing the industry, including the social costs and passive smoking, to research smoker behavior, to produce countermeasures to the World Conferences on Smoking and Health and combat other serious issues facing the industry.

ICOSI encouraged the formation of trade and manufacturing groups in foreign countries that were similar in function to the U.S. Tobacco Institute. Called "National Manufacturers Associations," or NMAs, the industry sought to form these groups wherever regional tobacco companies were not already organized to fight public health authorities. The groups were conduits for implementing countermeasures.

ICOSI was divided up into several "working parties." The most active working party was the Social Acceptability Working Party (SAWP), initially headed by C. Dennis Durden of R.J. Reynolds. SAWP conceived and implemented programs such as the Social Costs/Social Values Project and countermeasures to World Conferences on Smoking or Health. SAWP's efforts were directed towards changing public opinion about smoking in general, and altering public acceptance that secondhand smoke is harmful. SAWP's activities were initially limited to North America, Western Europe and Australia.

The costs of operating ICOSI were shared by each of the seven initial member companies, with PM, BAT and RJR each paying 20% and the other companies 10%. The cost estimate for the first year (1978) was U.S. $1 million. [2]

Funding

The costs of operating ICOSI were shared by each of the seven initial member companies, with PM, BAT and RJR each paying 20% and the other companies 10%. The cost estimate for the first year (1978) was U.S. $1 million. [3]

Activities

PM was the more aggressive member of ICOSI, advocating a "combative stance" for member companies, as indicated in the following passage from a 1978 letter (from Andrew Whist, Senior Vice President of External Affairs for Philip Morris, sent to Jules M. Hartogh of Philip Morris Europe Corporate Affairs:

"...I also happen to believe that bringing people around a table can sometimes go a long way to resolve the letter differences that exist across national boundaries. The more fundamental differences in philosophy will obviously take longer to resolve, particularly the difference in attitudes which we have come to expect between, say, the U.S. Tobacco Institute on the one hand and the TAC on the other. Hopefully, the British can be shamed or failing that, gently persuaded into a more combative stance."[4]

A "Strictly Confidential" report from November 1977 on the progress of ICOSI relates positions adopted by the member companies (that is to say, the united positions of all the tobacco companies). The positions were contradictory, and some might say untenable:

"Whilst the opponents of smoking use emotional arguments rather than scientific facts in their attempts to make smoking socially unacceptable, we must ensure that we never knowingly mislead our consumers who must believe that as manufacturers at all times we are acting responsibly and have concern for their interests."

and,

"Our legitimate objectives must include protection of the interests of our consumers...."

ICOSI at once insisted that "The Industry believes that smokers are well aware of the claimed health effects of smoking," and also that "The traditional role of Government is a free society...is to inform people, to give them the facts or to see that they are given the facts, and to leave the exercise of free choice to the individual." Yet in the same paper, they also state,

"If wording implying or stating smoking causes certain diseases, Companies must strenuously resist with all means at their disposal."

ICOSI sought to fundamentally broaden the target of tobacco industry "countermeasures" from limiting their work to influencing governmental agencies and public officials (the traditional way they operated) to attempting to change overall public opinion, a huge task:

"...This interest in shaping public opinion reflects the Working Party's desire to go beyond the industry's traditional practice of limiting its countermeasures to governmental agencies and officials... "[5]

A subcommittee of ICOSI called the Social Acceptability Working Party (SAWP) was responsible for carrying out a major industry project to alter global public opinion in favor of the tobacco industry, the "Social Costs/Social Values Project."

ICOSI was reorganized in 1981 and became the Tobacco Information Centre or INFOTAB.

Articles and Resources

Sources

  1. Schedel H Third Meeting of the International Committee on Smoking Issues Hamburg, March 9/10, 1978 (780309-780310). Conclusions and Recommendations Report. March 10, 1978. 99 pp. Bates No. 501473216/3313
  2. H Schedel and others, "Third Meeting of The International Committee on Smoking Issues, Hamburg, March 9/10, 1978 Conclusions and Recommendations", Bates Number 501473216, March 10, 1978.
  3. H Schedel and others, "Third Meeting of The International Committee on Smoking Issues, Hamburg, March 9/10, 1978 Conclusions and Recommendations", Bates Number 501473216, March 10, 1978.
  4. Andrew Whist, Philip Morris Letter to Jules M. Hartogh December 5, 1978. Philip Morris Bates No. 2501015439
  5. EEC Consumers Consultative Committee; EEC Working party on Tobacco; ICOSI, The Second ICOSI Meeting Brillancourt, Lausanne November 11-12 1977", Bates Number 1000208720, November 1977.

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