R.J. Reynolds Social Responsibility Project

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

R.J. Reynolds Social Responsibility Project was an effort by RJR circa 1984 to portray itself as "socially responsible" while, in fact, promoting the social acceptability of smoking.

A 67-page public relations document from 1984 relates groundwork done by marketing company Rogers & Cowan for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR) for RJR's "Social Responsibility Program." Despite its hopeful title, RJR's "Social Responsibility Program" sought to promote the social acceptability of smoking, particularly to young people. Evidence that Rogers & Cowan personnel (and possibly RJR personnel) may have know this was not actually socially acceptable is that, in doing the research for this paper, Rogers & Cowan kept secret the fact that they were working for a tobacco company: "To maintain the utmost confidentiality throughout, we identified ourselves in all contacts as either (a) freelance writers preparing materials on the smoking issue, or (b) students writing dissertations on the subject...At no time did we mention that we were researching on behalf of RJR."

Among other things, Rogers & Cowan collected and analyzed information on smoking education programs being implemented by health advocacy groups and schools around the country. They concluded that: "Because our informal survey has indicated what appears to be a fragmented and not fully effective anti-smoking effort in the schools and colleges, RJR should not feel relaxed about the strength of propaganda eroding its market of the future. "

Other plans for RJR's "Social Responsibility Program" included creating news stories on the economic benefits of tobacco to the third world, creating a nostalgic featurette that would examine the styles of smoking in classic films like Casablanca "to illustrate the essentially American tradition of smoking," the production of a news short detailing the history of the smoking jacket, and the dissemination of helpful brochures with titles like "Ten Tips for Lovers on Smoking in Bed."

Following is a sample of the text contained in the report:

3. RJR would be portrayed as the leader of an industry that is both responsible socially and responsive to economic forces. Rogers & Cowan would interview such figures as economists, stock analysis, authorities at university business schools to compare the tobacco industry's flexibility and competitiveness in the face of a changing consumer taste, etc...

5. Rogers & Cowan would interview economists specializing in the export trade and key RJR executives to discuss the remarkably positive influence on the U.S. balance of payments of the tobacco industry's $2.2 billion a year in exports ...

...9 . We would develop an "economic chain" feature to explain the importance of the tobacco industry to the livelihood of millions by tracing tobacco production from the farm to the local supermarket. We would select a typical southern family farm that is entirely dependent on the tobacco crop, move through auction, middleman stages, production, distribution and retailing. At each stage, we would quote down-to-earth people, with whom the average viewer/reader can easily identify ...

10. We would develop a photo history of the smoking jacket, from Victorian leisure regalia through the elegance of the Art Deco era and focusing on public figures and celebrities who once wore or still do wear smoking jackets. The just introduced line of sleepwear from Fernando Sanchez, for example, features pajamas and smoking jackets to be modeled by former heavyweight boxing champ Ken Norton ...

...12. Cigar and pipe smoking is often forbidden on aircraft or in restaurants, where cigarette smoking is permitted. This clearly is because cigarette smoke is lighter, less offensive to non-smokers...Rogers & Cowan would interview a psychologist, RJR research chemists and develop a story emphasizing RJR's sensitivity to the feelings of nonsmokers in developing its products. It would also place tobacco in the same category as wine and perfume, a sophisticated pleasure subject to subtle refinements.

...18. RJR would underwrite a heritage-of-smoking TV featurette to illustrate the essentially American tradition of smoking. It would consist of scenes from movies of the past in which smoking was integral, e.g. Casablanca; Gary Cooper's movies, World War II movies; Westerns, etc. A celebrity narrator would talk over the visuals and refer in a light-hearted and nostalgic way to the rituals and styles of smoking through the decades ...[1]

Sourcewatch resources

External resources


  1. Rogers and Cowan Final Report on Research for the RJR Social Responsibility Program Report. January, 1984. Bates No. 502658739/8805

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