Whitecoat Project

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

The Whitecoat Project was a Philip Morris-led global effort to create and maintain a controversy about the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).

The end goals of the project were to "resist and roll back smoking restrictions" and "restore smoker confidence." Prerequisites to achieve these goals included "reversing scientific and popular misconception that ETS is harmful" and "restoring social acceptability of smoking." The program consisted of proactive and reactive elements. The "proactive element" was generating a body of scientific literature supporting PM's views that ETS is not harmful and disseminating that information in target markets, and the "reactive element" was to "provide scientific and technical resources to challenge existing laws; to counter specific legislative and regulatory threats; and to respond to scientific mis-information and bias as it arises in these markets." The initial project leader was Helmut Gaisch of PM Science and Technology in Neuchatel, Switzerland. [1] "Scientific misinformation" and "bias" referred to any scientific viewpoints that did not support PM's marketing goals.

The project, conceived by Philip Morris (PM) and later named "The Whitecoat Project" after the white coats that scientists wear, proved to be a tremendously expensive undertaking. To assist the the expense, PM arranged a 1988 meeting with British tobacco companies to describe their plan and solicit financial support for their activities:

Philip Morris presented to the UK industry their global strategy on environmental tobacco smoke. In every major international area (USA, Europe, Australia, Far East, South America, Central American and Spain) they are proposing, in key countries, to set up a team of scientists organized by one national coordinating scientist and American lawyers, to review scientific literature or carry out work on ETS to keep the controversy alive...
...Because of the heavy financial burden, Philip Morris are inviting other companies to join them in these activities to whatever extent individual companies deem to be appropriate. [2]

PM's clandestine method of recruiting scientific consultants for the project is laid out:

...The [scientific] consultants should, ideally, according to Philip Morris, be European scientists who have had no previous connections with tobacco companies and who have no previous record on the primary [health] issue which might, according to Remes, lead to problems of attribution. The mechanism by which they identify their consultants is as follows: they ask a couple of scientists in each country...to produce a list of potential consultants. The scientists are then contacted by these coordinators or by the lawyers and asked if they are interested in problems of Indoor Air Quality: tobacco is not mentioned at this stage. CV's are obtained and obvious "anti-smokers" or those with "unsuitable backgrounds" are filtered out..."[3]

The activities of the scientists who were successfully recruited were then carefully controlled and their research results "filtered":

Philip Morris then expect the group of scientists to operate within the confines of decisions taken by PM scientists to determine the general direction of research, which apparently would then be 'filtered' by lawyers to eliminate areas of sensitivity. [4]

Additional tobacco industry documents

The following document is a telex that shows that the tobacco industry's rush to recruit these potential "whitecoats" as third parties was so avid that it was becoming embarassing and had to be coordinated, in order to keep from scaring off potential scientists.

Title: Organization of Contacts with Whitecoats
Org. Author: Philip Morris Europe (PME)
Per. Author: Helmut Gaisch
Date: 19871116 (November 16, 1987) Type: Telex/fax
Bates No. 2023542534
Collection: Philip Morris
Master Bates: 2023542534/2541
URL: http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/yqu78e00


Other Sourcewatch Resources

References

  1. Philip Morris [February 22, 1988. Bates No. 2501254705/4708
  2. Dr. Sharon Boyse, Note On a Special Meeting Of the UK Industry on Environmental Tobacco Smoke London February 17, 1988", British American Tobacco Company, Bates No. 2063791181/1187. (Note these are the minutes taken by a BAT employee of PM's presentation)
  3. Dr. Sharon Boyse, Note On a Special Meeting Of the UK Industry on Ernvironmental Tobacco Smoke London February 17, 1988", British American Tobacco Company, Bates No. 2063791181/1187. (Note these are the minutes taken by a BAT employee of PM's presentation)
  4. Dr. Sharon Boyse, Note On a Special Meeting Of the UK Industry on Environmental Tobacco Smoke London February 17, 1988", British American Tobacco Company, Bates No. 2063791181/1187. (Note these are the minutes taken by a BAT employee of PM's presentation)