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Whitecoats

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

In tobacco industry parlance, Whitecoats were academic and scientific consultants who had been recruited by industry lawyers to work undercover for the tobacco industry, to counter the problems posed to the industry by the issue of secondhand smoke, also known as "passive smoking" or ETS). "Whitecoats" were distinct from the general run of scientists and external consultants who worked fairly openly for the industry. They were also a quite distinct category from expert "independent" witnesses who were regularly paid to give evidence at court cases or before Congress, and therefore had their views and associations relatively exposed. Despite these initial distinctions, at later dates there was some cross-over between the categories, and some Whitecoat scientists and academics fell into more than one category.

Philip Morris's view of Whitecoats

The 1987 ETS (passive smoking) Action Plan proposed for Philip Morris's EEMA Region spells out the role and recruitment of Whitecoats:

Search for "Whitecoats"

  • Identification of independent scientists, with a suitable background and a good reputation, who could give advice to authorities and the public on ETS matter. (The potential candidates should be in the "mainstream" off science and not on the "fringe".
  • Approach and, ideally, conclusion of a consultancy agreement, possibly with an intermediate organisation.
  • The provision of grants in order to enable the candidates to carry-out adequate research in the ETS field, which is necessary to give them the required confidence in their own position, and which will make them independent of possible hostile reactions by their scientific peers.[1]

These were the three main elements:

  1. the scientists should be prominent, possibly in a government consultative position, and independent -- not known to be a tobacco scientists.
  2. They should be recruited and paid through a secondary organization so they could deny working for the tobacco industry.
  3. They should be given grants to let them conduct "adequate research" to give them some sort of scientific status in smoking research.

In the deposition of Steven C. Parrish, the top public relations executive in Philip Morris USA (PM), he claims that the Whitecoat project had more independence and more substance:

"[It] was an effort to identify scientists who had expressed points of view on certain aspects of environmental tobacco smoke and who would be willing to express those views publicly in regulatory forums, legislative forums, and in the media. [2]

The key to any Whitecoat's credibility was for them to maintain the appearance of independence from financial influence, and maintain that they had preserved complete scientific neutrality.

In essence, the reason for Whitecoats, as distinct from the industry's run-of-the-mill consultants, was to:

  • recruit scientists with credibility in their own academic fields, and train them in passive smoking (ETS) problems.
  • generate for them some sort of substantial ETS-related scientific credentials -- generally by publishing ghost-written papers under their by-lines, or have them give conference speeches (often ghosted) which would then be published in the proceedings.[citation needed]
  • have other consultants and whitecoats then cite these proceeding records as if they were genuine discoveries or valid opinions.[citation needed]
  • pay the Whitecoats generously for results, rather than by way of a retainer. They had to find media outlets for Letters to the Editor, etc. to be paid.[citation needed]
  • provide them with per-diems, travel and accommodation costs to go to conferences.[citation needed]
  • maintain their claim of independence within their academic institutions by keeping them (and all payments) at arms-length from the tobacco industry.

All of this was highly attractive to academics who generally regard themselves as underpaid and overworked. They always lacked the funds to attend important conferences. So they didn't see this as a public sell-out to the industry since they could always drop out of the agreement if pressured. Transactions were entirely confidential.

Day to Day operations

Once recruited and trained, the Whitecoats were expected, but never instructed, to:

  • Attend conferences in their disciplines and become involved in panel discussions, make speeches, etc. A 1990 report on European Whitecoats says:

We ask our consultants to cover all substantial scientific conferences where they can usefully influence scientific and public opinion. They also attend many other conferences on their own, as part of their ordinary scientific activities. The conferences we ask them to attend are selected after approval from Dr. Gaisch and with the advice of a small group of consultants, who serve as an informal scientific steering group. The job is a heavy one, and depends for its success upon a large group of consultants representing a wide range of disciplines.

  • Question anti-smoking scientists, attack anti-smoking activism and criticize the regulating agencies and their science.
  • Monitor relevant scientific literature to identify possible problem areas for the industry, and report on all new material.
  • Publish letters to the editor in scientific or medical journals, newspapers, appear on radio or TV as "completely independent scientists" to counter articles which hurt the industry.
  • Sometimes go on media tours, where a PR company would take them around the country and tout their credentials as "a famous scientist with something controversial to say" to the press and broadcast media. They were sometimes asked to give evidence at political inquiries (more a 'witness' function).[citation needed]

A 1990 report to management on European Whitecoats says:

... we are actively eliminating those consultants who have proved unproductive. Further, our consultants are not on retainer, and therefore are not paid unless and until they actually perform work. As a result, a strong list of available consultants does not in fact mean the creation of unnecessary costs; it does mean wider choice and greater flexibility.[3]

It also boasts that:

A major meeting of the Toxicology Forum will be held in Budapest in July, and will include a session on ETS organised by our consultants. We expect the ETS session to provide an excellent forum for educating government regulators and others. The proceedings will be transcribed and available for use. [4]

The ARIA consulting group and its IAI offshoot was of particular importance in Europe:

Our EC consultants have formed a consulting group called ARIA (Associates for Research in indoor Air) that has its own brochure and is offering consulting services to companies and governments on IAQ issues. The ARIA model has been followed on a smaller scale by Asian consultants. Our consultants have [also] created the world's only learned scientific society addressing questions of indoor air quality. The society (Indoor Air international) is seeking memberships from all those interested in IAQ issues throughout the world. It will soon have its own periodic newsletter, in which ETS and other IAQ issues will be discussed in a balanced fashion to an audience of regulators, scientists, building operators, etc. It will also have its own scientific journal, published by a major European publishing house, in which IAQ issues will again be addressed. The society will be self-supporting from its own dues.[citation needed]

Non-financial benefits

Paid PR reputation boosting: Apart from the money, Whitecoats would also have their scientific prestige boosted by PR companies which had been hired by the tobacco industry; sometimes popular articles would be written for them or about them, and placed with major popular magazines. [5]

Whitecoats could also safely be promoted with the help of a hired PR company. When they spoke at a scientific conference, the media would receive a press release (which they assumed came from the conference organizer's PR agency) focusing on the Whitecoat's speech. As a consequence of this highly-specific boosting, much of the material the media drew upon in its reporting of conferences was written by tobacco-funded press agencies. Reuters also had a distribution service for paid "news releases" which would turn up on newspaper offices Teletypes along with the legitimate hourly news distribution.[6]

Mutual Whitecoat citation boosting: Whitecoats and consultants also received help in the form of citation boosting. Scientists and academics working in large universities or government institutions tend to be graded in importance (by their superiors- who are often from another discipline entirely) on the basis of how often their research papers are cited by other scientists. Citation counts are widely believed to be a measure a person's scientific status among their peers in any area of specialty.

So when a Whitecoat or consultant wrote a paper for publication, it would be sent to the company, and passed through the PR department of the tobacco company where the English would be improved and any dangerous words removed or changed -- then it would go to the Science & Technology section where facts would be checked and relevant citations for papers by other fellow tobacco scientists would be added. This improved the chances of the paper being accepted by a legitimate scientific journal, and it simultaneously amplified the citation count of all Whitecoats, making their research appear much more important than was justified.[citation needed]

Miscellaneous: The tobacco industry helped Whitecoats in other ways:

  • it ran (or influenced) dozens of major scientific conferences around the world every year;
  • it owned (or influenced) a number of top peer-reviewed journals;
  • it funded organizations that had regular newsletters; and it
  • paid for the publication (and often free distribution) of many books, text-books, reports and proceedings.

One Whitecoat report says:

A separate effort, but one which can probably be handled by the central PR firm, involves having reference works on ETS/IAQ published by commercial publishing firms."[7]

So any Whitecoat automatically had the backing of a ready-made, highly funded career-promotion scheme.

Special cases: The tobacco industry also notably targeted the upwardly-mobile scientists who had less interest in the labors of laboratory research, and more enthusiasm for the kudos of holding office in scientific organizations, or the prestige of editing a major scientific journal.

An extraordinary number of Whitecoats and tobacco consultants held such administrative positions -- and these people were much more influential with the press than any run-of-mill laboratory researcher.[citation needed] Whitecoats were often boosted into prestigious positions on certain professional Advisory Boards of their disciplines, or onto the Editorial Boards of publications. On any list of potential recruits, the scientist holding such positions would be marked out for special attention.

Whitecoats vs Consultants

In general, the term "Whitecoat" was only applied to those academic scientists recruited outside the USA and the United Kingdom (although it was sometimes used in a way that incorporated UK consultants). In the early years, it was also specifically a Philip Morris term -- the reason being that the bulk of those recruited within North America and Britain had come on board before 1988, when the term first began to be employed. Some executives never used the term Whitecoats, and always referred to them as ETS Consultants. You'll find in the general tobacco correspondence Asian Whitecoats are refered to also as "Asian ETS Consultants". [8]

Whitecoats rationale

The formal program of Whitecoat recruitment was triggered by the growing concerns in the industry over passive smoking, (Environmental Tobacco Smoke or ETS, in the tobacco literature). There was serious concern in Philip Morris about their progressive failure to find health scientists with any legitimate scientific or academic standing, willing to put their names forward in defense of active smoking.

They could still rely on some older medical "repudiators" who had made their careers supporting the industry, and there were a few research scientists who saw the defense of smoking as a requirement for continued grant support. There were also some ideologically inspired scientific "attack dogs" who opposed all forms of regulation or government involvement in health or environmental issues (this group went on to become 'climate-change deniers').

But generally the industry's stable of "independent medical experts" was being eroded in the late 1980s, and they were gradually being left with the support of only a few economists, statisticians and marketing/advertising experts. By a process of natural selection, these people were unfettered free-enterprise ideologues willing to risk ridicule by speaking out in support of tobacco as "a legitimate business selling a desired product to a population who could exert choice in the marketplace".[citation needed]

Recruitment techniques

What distinguished the Whitecoat project from the industry's other health-science recruitment programs, was that:

  1. it was specifically directed at Environmental Tobacco Smoke, not at active smoking;
  2. the recruitment process was entirely covert and done mainly by lawyers,
  3. those recruited were provided with a relatively high degree of protection from discovery. Payments were generally passed through lawyers, so it was decreed that:

S&T [PM's Science & Technology division in Europe] should avoid direct involvement with consultants actively working with C&B [law firm Covington & Burling ]; e.g:, Martin,, Nilsen, Skrabanek, Weetman, Selroos.
C&B should not recruit as consultants any scientists actively working for S&T.

  1. they were often enlisted into pseudo-organizations to give them a way to launder their payments. [See IAPAG, ARIA, EGIL, ARTIST ]
  2. their payment for services depended almost entirely on the initiative of the scientist him/herself. This later changed, with the tobacco industry initiating projects itself for the more useful Whitecoats.

However, initially, the Whitecoat recruit was expected to read the current literature in his/her discipline and find opportunities to respond to anti-smoking claims. They would, for instance, write a letter to the editor in defense of the industry -- or to attack the credibility of some scientific report -- or make a speech at a scientific conference ... and then invoice the lawyers for their time. They could also seek approval to attend a conference as speaker or panel participant and expect to have their travel, accommodation and generous per-diems paid.

With Whitecoats, there was no annual retainer -- although some of the more useful of them migrated to more permanent and lucrative arrangements.

The Recruitment Process

United States and United Kingdom

The IAPAG group which operated out of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., appears to have developed around Sorell Schwartz and Nancy Balter, who both taught and worked at the university. The had access to a large database-ready university mainframe computer, at a time when such equipment was prohibitively expensive. So they were able to transfer the Weinberg Group's file-card database of important scientific research papers on tobacco smoke over to a computerized function. This became the CEHHT database, made available to tobacco scientists and lawyers at a hefty monthly fee. Other important tobacco consultants like the Witorsch brothers, gravitated into this group. It was controlled and funded through PM USA, the domestic company, not PM International.[citation needed]

Europe

The process of recruiting Whitecoats inside Europe was initiated by Helmut Gaisch, the European Director of Science & Technology (S&T) for Philip Morris International in October 1987, and the philosophy and requirements of the project were spelled out in a couple of undated memos shortly after. The structure of the proposed operation was complex because of the different regions involved and the need to have Covington & Burling perform as the executive arm and, thus, "act at the same time as a legal buffer."

Acronyms Used:

EEC : (European Economic Community) refers to Europe (ex Scandinavia and some Baltic/Balkan areas before 1995).


EEMA : the rest of Europe, Africa and Middle East.
IFAQ : In-Flight Air Quality (airlines) to distinguish if from IAQ (office indoor air quality)
ICIAR : International Center for Indoor Air Research, which was an idea for a European version of the U.S. CIAR research organization. [9]


S&T HGa: refers to Helmut Gaisch at the Science & Technology division of Philip Morris in Neuchatel, Switzerland. [10]

The first full meeting to discuss the formal project for Europe was held in February 1988 [11] [12] This was followed soon after by a report on their progress, together with an overall philosophy of operations. [13]

By March 1990, they were very pleased with the way the project was going. [14]

Later Philip Morris decided to hand the project over to the tobacco industry as a whole [15] and the BAT chief science-lobbyist in the "Smoking Issues" department, Sharon Boyse, wrote a detailed tell-all memo about the meeting.[16]

Scandinavia

The recruitment for the EGIL group was done through a full-time consultant, Torbjorn Malmfors who was first vetted by the IAPAG group in Georgetown University. See EGIL for explanation.

Asia

The top members of the ARIA group (Roger Perry, George Leslie, Francis Roe) together with lawyers John Rupp and David M. Billings of Covington & Burling were hired to conduct the Asian recruitment program. The 1990 European Whitecoat report says:

Several our European consultants have been deeply involved in helping to create the group of Asian consultants. One European has made several lengthy visits to Asia and has been the principal discoverer and recruiter of the Asian consultants. Several of the consultants have also been substantially involved in informing the Asians about ETS issues, as well as in providing other briefings on those issues in Asia.

See The Asian environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) consultants programme for more details

Whitecoats organizations

Most Whitecoat recruitment outside the USA was under the control of John Rupp, a top tobacco lawyer with the industry's main international legal firm, Covington & Burling [17] and his associate David M. Billings. In Europe, they also used Philip Morris's chief scientist Helmut Gaisch and/or the Weinberg Group for guidance or to make the initial contacts.

In the United Kingdom and Asia, they relied mostly on Professor Roger Perry of Imperial College London, the well-known toxicologist Francis J. C. Roe (known as the "main Whitecoat in Europe" [18]) and a freelance consultant George Leslie who ran a small firm, BioAssays Ltd. This threesome had long worked together for the tobacco industry in the UK. However, the lawyers did the actual recruitment, and payment was laundered through Covington & Burling. See EGIL for one explanation as to how the recruitment system worked.

To protect the Whitecoats from exposure (they could have been questioned when providing "independent" testimony in a court case) they were organized eventually to operate through what amounted to private consulting companies. Some of these, like IAPAG/CEHHT, used university addresses that suggested that they were academic associations. Others operated as if they were legitimate companies of consultants.

ARIA was typical of the European and Asian cut-out organsiations in that it acted as as a private consultancy firm for its Whitecoat members. It would send out invoices on their behalf, and pay incoming cheques into special bank-accounts (some in Swiss Banks) ... and it publicised itself as a general health/environmental consulting firm, not one that focussed just on tobacco.

Note also that in 1992, lawyer John Rupp of the tobacco industry's main legal firm Covington & Burling was able to offer newly recruited Latin American Whitecoats (here called ETS consultants) access to the "Georgetown IAQ database" ... which was in fact the CEHHT database [1] which was operated out of Georgetown University.

Georgetown University

In 1986 the IAPAG had a core group of 10, and overall more than 20 scientists at various times. [2]

The term "Whitecoats" wasn't used for US scientists; they were simply known as ETS Consultants. And this group formed around Sorell Schwartz and Nancy Balter acted as a "cut-out" organization for the shonky scientists. In legal terms, IAPAG stood as a barrrier to discovery between the consultants and their paymasters the tobacco companies (through its lawyers). It was IAPAG, not the academic consultants, who were contracted for the work to be done, and IAPAG then received the payments and passed them on.

IAPAG had a secondary advantage. Membership of this elite group of experts sounded impressive when the consultants were giving evidence on indoor air pollution problems in courts or to Congress. Like many think-tanks and pseudo-science organisations the name was more useful than the function: the consultants were able to exploit this impressive-sounding title, while in reality the organisations provided little (if anything) of substance.

UK and Europe

The IAPAG model was copied -- then modified -- in the UK by the core group of academic and independent scientists working for the tobacco industry: Professor Roger Perry, Francis Roe and George Leslie. ARIA's offshoot "scientific" or "learned" society (IAI) ran seminars and had its own scientific journal and newsletter, all funded by tobacco.

Scandinavia

  • EGIL in Scandinavia had ten in 1991, but collapsed in 1992 [4]

EGIL was a cut-out organization of Nordic Area Whitecoats. These were mainly Scandinavian academics enlisted by a Philip Morris consultant, Torbjorn Malmfors, and formed by him into this pseudo science group. Malmfors himself became a member of the ARIA group also. [19]

Asia

In Asia, the tobacco industry recruited a couple of scientists in each of the major countries. This turned out to be a long-term project run by lawyers John Rupp and David M. Billings at Covington & Burling, with the assistance of Roger Perry, Francis Roe and George Leslie, all of ARIA

See ARTIST and The Asian environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) consultants programme for information about the lawyer-led recruitment program also.

Resources

Related SourceWatch articles

Sources

  1. Arjuna Kannangara, Philip Morris PM EEMA 870000 ETS Plan Report. 13 pp. March 9, 1987. Bates No. 2501152320/2332
  2. Parrish Corrected Testimony.pdf January 21, 2005. 143 pp. Bates No.5000943161/3303
  3. Covington & Burling Report on the European Consultancy Programme Memorandum. 14 pp. March 1, 1990. Bates No. 2501473124/3137
  4. Covington & Burling Report on the European Consultancy Programme Memorandum. 14 pp. March 1, 1990. Bates No. 2501473124/3137
  5. Tom Hockaday, APCO Associates Possible individuals to be approached for opinion editorials Memorandum. 4 pp. March 2, 1993. Philip Morris Bates No. 2021178213/8216
  6. Parrish Corrected Testimony.pdf January 21, 2005. Philip Morris Bates No. 5000943161/5000943303
  7. Author unknown ETS Strategy in the Philip Morris EEC Region Report. 7 pp. August 9, 1988. Bates No. 2028364722/4728
  8. Philip Morris Proposal for the Organisation of the Whitecoat Project Report. 4 pp. February, 1988. Bates No. 2501474262/4265
  9. Philip Gardener The Philip Morris External Research Program; Fig Leaf Optional TRDRP Newsletter. March 2001. Bates No. 3001500626/3001500628
  10. Philip Morris Proposal for the Organisation of the Whitecoat Project Report. 4 pp. February, 1988. Bates No. 2501474262/4265 See "Notes on acronyms used"
  11. Philip Morris Europe ETS Coordination Meeting Monday, 29th February, 1988 0900 - 1730 hrs A Venue De Cour, Lausanne Agenda. February 29, 1988. Bates No. 2028364821
  12. Keith Ware, Philip Morris Organisation of Whitecoat Project - an EEMA Perspective Memorandum. February 22, 1988. Bates No. 2501474261
  13. Author unknown ETS Strategy in the Philip Morris EEC Region Report. 7 pp. August 9, 1988. Bates No. 2028364722/4728
  14. Covington & Burling Report on the European Consultancy Programme Memorandum. 14 pp. March 1, 1990. Bates No. 2501473124/3137
  15. Nick Cohen, New Statesman Magazine The Plot to Keep Us Puffing January 17, 2000. Brtish American Tobacco Bates No. 322048235/8238
  16. Sharon Boyse, British American Tobacco Note on a special meeting of the UK Industry on Environmental Tobacco Smoke, London, February 17th, 1988. Meeting minutes.4pp. February 17, 1988. Bates No. 2065340964/0967
  17. Covington & Burling No title Letter. December 31, 1987. Bates No. 2501474303/4305
  18. Gaisch, HW Monthly Report Highlights 870930 Progress report. 17pp at page 13, Bates No. 2001160764/0780
  19. Covington & Burling European Consultancy Programme ARIA and EGIL October 1988-October 1989October 24, 1989. 9 pp. Bates No. 2500019903/9911
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