Robert D. Tollison

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

Robert D. ("Bob") Tollison is an professor or economics who worked extensively for the tobacco industry, mainly in;

  1. denying activist claims that the ill-health and premature death caused by smoking was a financial burden on the society.
  2. that cigarette excise taxes were 'regressive' and therefore unfair, since the relative cost increases were greater for the poor that the rich.
  3. that smokers saved the nation the cost of maintaining people in old age, since they died earlier and were less of a budget burden. (The "Death Benefit of Smoking" argument ... not favoured by the tobacco industry)

The anti-smokers and tobacco control movement sought to advance social costs arguments against cigarettes. They sought out and hired Tollison to counter this argument since it was quite obvious to everyone that smoking caused immense costs in the provision of health services (to smokers and non-smokers alike) and in building and side-walk cleaning, waste disposal, etc. etc. Tollison also specialized in attacking the World Health Organization (WHO) on the basis that it was wasting money on anti-smoking projects when it should be concentrating on other 'more serious' problems like road safety, drug and alcohol abuse and third-world diseases.

Cash-for-Comments Economists Network
James M Savarese   &   Ogilvy & Mather PR
Richard Wagner   &   Dwight R Lee
Center for the Study of Popular Choice
Public Choice Society

Cash-for-Comments Economists Network

Tollison's main achievement, however, was to set up and run the Cash for Comments Economists Network with James Savarese of Ogilvy & Mather PR (which later migrated to James Savarese and Associates). This was a Tobacco Institute project (funded through the law firm Covington & Burling (C&B)). The network maintained between 40 and 50 Professors of Economics at State Universities across the USA who were on-call to write op-ed articles about a specific subject when problems arose. These professors moved on to other positions, and so over they years about 120 professional academics in these status positions were bribed to become mouth-pieces for the tobacco industry. Later Tollison and Savarese ran a much smaller and less successful parallel network of Professors in Business Management.

Apart from exploiting his economic credentials, Tollison wrote articles and books, gave speeches, talked to journalists, briefed members of Congress and State Assemblies, and was generally on-call for the Tobacco Institute whenever his services were needed. In addition to the Tobacco Institutes in many countries, INFOTAB (the international version of the US Tobacco Institute), his services were also called upon regularly by Philip Morris (PM) and British American Tobacco (BAT).[1]

The International Committee on Smoking Issues (ICOSI) paid Tollison and his associate Richard Wagner a lot of money to write a couple of books to order. He was obviously skilled at translating industry propaganda into reasonably innocuous texts. Tollison had a core group of co-conspirators who helped maintain the money flowing from the tobacco industry including Dwight R Lee (Georgia U), Thomas E Borcherding (Claremont College), Henry N Butler (Texas A&M), and William F Shughart (Clemson U).

At George Mason, he was both a professor at the University and a Director and CEO of the libertarian think-tank known as the Center for Study of Public Choice and the associated Public Choice Society which the tobacco industry used as a way to launder payments and organise seminars. He also worked through the British Social Affairs Unit (an auxiliary of the Institute for Economic Affairs in London).

He specialized in two main areas of concern to the industry:

  1. the social costs issue (how much of a burden smoking was on society),
  2. in mounting economic attacks on the World Health Organization (WHO)[2]

He said that the WHO wasted money on anti-smoking activities.[3] Tollison's services were so prized by the industry that BAT listed him as part of their "Tobacco Strategies Group".[4]


Tollison was born in 1942, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He completed an undergraduate degree at Wofford College, then obtained his Ph.D. from University of Virginia and an MA from University of Alabama.[citation needed]

His online biographical notes say:

Dr. Tollison received his Ph.D. in economics in 1969 from the University of Virginia. He has served on the faculties at Cornell University, Texas A & M University, Virginia Tech, Clemson University, and George Mason University. He served as Department Head at Texas A & M (1974-76) and as Director of the Center for Study of Public Choice at George Mason (1984-1998). He also held endowed chairs at Clemson and George Mason Universities. Dr. Tollison has served in government twice-- as a Senior Staff Economist on the President's Council of Economic Advisers (1971-72) and as Director of the Bureau of Economics at the Federal Trade Commission (1981-83). He is a past president of the Southern Economic Association (1985) and the Public Choice Society (1994-96).[5]

He is also a book reviewer and is listed as one of the editors of Public Choice, a quarterly economics magazine published by Kluwer Academic Publishers but described as "loosely affiliated" with the Public Choice Society.[6][7]

In 1984 he joined forces with four other economists: Harold M. Hochman, Thomas E. Borcherding, Fred McChesney and Dolores T. Martin, to start the Committee on Taxation and Economic Growth, "an informal committee of economists from 42 states who have collectively and individually participated in activities on behalf of the tobacco industry in the areas of excise taxation and public smoking."[8] This committee was supported by the Tobacco Institute (TI) through Ogilvy & Mather Public Relations (O&M) and James Savarese and Associates. Tollison and James Savarese were old associates.[citation needed]

Tollison's value to the tobacco industry lay in the fact that he was a well-respected, widely published economist, who had credibility in academic circles. In 2002 he was the Robert M. Hearin Professor of Economics in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Mississippi.[citation needed]

Involvement with the tobacco industry

Tollison earned significant funds from the tobacco industry. As one of a half-dozen speakers on lecture tours to Africa and India, he was paid $22,000 for ten days, with all expenses paid, [9] a figure that was only exceeded by the doctor and IAPAG member Philip Witorsch, and the lawyer John Rupp of Covington & Burling.

Those on the lecture tours would have been paid slightly less for their tour of Pakistan and Ceylon [10] Latin America [11]and many Asian countries. Tollison also made the long trip to Australia in 1992 [12]

In 1993, after many years working for the tobacco industry (as well as other industries) Tollison became caught between Sharon Boyse of British American Tobacco's Smoking Issues division, and Paul G. Dietrich, a long-term lawyer-lobbyist against WHO's anti-smoking activities who was also the ex-editor of the famous Saturday Review cultural magazine when it was briefly under tobacco industry control. Dietrich also ran a think-tank known as the Institute for International Health & Development (IIHD), which also specialized in anti-WHO diatribes: Dietrich and Tollison went back many years.

On the first of October 1995 the British network Channel 4 broadcast "The Sleaze Factor:UN Blues" a 50 minutes documentary which featured Tollison and Dietrich joining together in attacking WHO. In this program Tollison says that he is a "professor of health policy at an American university." [13] [2]

The tobacco archives have a series of letters between the US tobacco law firm Covington and Burling, British American Tobacco, and Paul Dietrich over payment of $30,000 towards the translation of a book on an industry-oriented conference on passive smoking. This was the proceedings of the McGill University ETS Symposium, which was funded and controlled entirely by Philip Morris but supposedly sponsored by Dietrich's IIHD. Boyse wrote to Philip Morris: [3]

"[A]t our last joint media seminar in Venezuela, we found it necessary to obtain a replacement for [[Paul Dietrich[['s usual WHO presentation, and Bob Tollison agreed to step in at the last minute. In the course of giving the presentation, he produced more facts and figures on the WHO budget in writing than we have ever had out of Dietrich in some time of paying him an expensive consultancy fee!.

  "We have subsequently had severe problems with Dietrich in relation to the Spanish translation of the McGill proceedings, which Aurora can also fill you in on if you are unaware. We, for one, will never use him again in this or any other respect. We therefore desperately need an alternative for media work and hopefully one that will publish something more substantial than Dietrich's usual stereotyped press articles.  "Tollison has agreed to carry out more work on the WHO and to publish, at our instigation, a collaborative effort with Digby Anderson of the Social Affairs Unit (SAU) on the WHO and other similar organisations. We are funding this publication through the SAU.

"However, understandably, Tollison is concerned about using Dietrich's data for a publication, especially given that in Dietrich's present state of mind he could well take offense and cause a major international incident! "

There is only one reason why such an action could cause an international incident and that's the same reason why Tollison might have concerns. Philip Morris's Corporate Affairs division (under Andrew Whist) had over-egged their symposium and the subsquent publicity by only inviting scientists and lawyers who were actively employed in supporting the cigarette companies. So everyone involved knew that this material was deliberate tobacco misinformation. Many outsiders could also guess.

Smoking and the State/Society

Tollison served as editor on a tobacco industry-sponsored book called Smoking and Society: Towards a More Balanced Perspective. (published in 1985 by Lexington Books.) The preface claimed that there was a "continuing controversy within the scientific community about the effect of smoking on the health of smokers and nonsmokers," even though the U.S. Surgeon General had by then issued fully 19 reports definitively linking smoking to disease. [15]

In the archives of the TI there are several revisions of a 1986 manuscript called 'Smoking and the State' later renamed to 'Smoking and the State: Social Costs, Rent Seeking, and Public Policy' written by Robert Tollison and Richard E. Wagner, (who also studied economics at the University of Virginia). [16] [17][18]

The president of the Tobacco Institute, in a 1989 memo to his Executive Committee, described "Smoking and the State" as "the book commissioned by the Institute to rebut the ‘social cost’ claims made by anti-smokers."[19] At the end of the preface of the 175 page document it says "This manuscript was produced under a grant from The Tobacco Institute."

In March, 1988 Lexington Books published a book with the same title, and in June of that year, TI planned to promote that book widely:

Promotion of the Tollison and Wagner book, Smoking and the State, continues. An executive summary of the book is near completion. Several members of the economists' network have completed critiques, which are in the process of being cleared for publication. Tollison and Wagner have received media training and are prepared to begin a series of media tours to promote the book and discuss the social cost issue." [20]

Economists Network

After it had been well established that both cigarettes and second-hand smoker were harmful to public health, economic arguments remained one of the few areas where academic consultants were prepared to publicly voice opinions in favor of the tobacco industry. 'Rationalist economists' promoting supply-side economics were the most vocal because of their support for the prevailing deregulation orthodoxy, and with the money the tobacco industry had on offer, there was no shortage of academic economist queueing up with their hands out. [21]

Tollison was a member of the Tobacco Institute's clandestine "Economists Network," a group of academics who helped the tobacco industry fight the declining social acceptability of smoking by generating favorable research for publication, presenting favorable papers at academic conferences and symposia, and "being available to challenge the 'social costs' economics utilized by anti-smokers at public and legislative forums."[22] The term "social costs economics" refers to the theory that smokers cost employers more than nonsmoking employees due to increased absenteeism, higher health care costs, the additional cleaning expense and increased fire danger they cause.

Alexis de Tocqueville Institution

On May 17, 1994 Cesar Conda, Executive Director of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (AdTI) sent a fax to the Tobacco Institute for Bill Orzechowski (Chief Economist at TI). Attached was the final draft of a report called "The EPA and the Science of Environmental Tobacco Smoke." [4] This 25-page report was written by S. Fred Singer as president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) and Kent Jeffreys as an Adjunct Scholar of the Center on Regulation and Economic Growth of AdTI.[23]

In the fax, Conda asked TI to review the draft with their lawyers but to keep the changes minimal. Mr. Conda asked Bill Orzechowski to contact Robert Tollison and some other people (if possible scientists, epidemiologists, etc.) for the "Academic and Science Advisory Board."

Robert Tollison appears on the Academic Advisory Board for the pro-tobacco junk-science report of 70 pages which was renamed to "Science, economics, and environmental policy: a critical examination" [24] and published by AdTI on August 11, 1994. Both TI & Philip Morris were sponsors of AdTI (see AdTI-Funding).

Ten of the 19 members of that Academic Advisory Board of the AdTI listed economics as their specialty, so the "economists' network" was still active.

1994 Aug A Alexis de Tocqueville report "The EPA and the Science of ETS" has been funded by the Tobacco Institute. The author was Adjunct Scholar Kent Jeffreys, and the senior reviewer was S. Fred Singer, a Professor of Environmental Science (on leave from the University of Virginia) and a Senior Fellow at the Institute. The final report was scheduled to be complete mid-June and it would be entitled "Science and Environmentalism".

A confidential memo by the president of the Tobacco Institute, Samuel D. Chilcote, Jr., described how this secret tobacco-funded report was being used in legislative lobbying:

This morning Reps. Peter Geren (D-TX) and John Mica (R-FL) held a press conference announcing the release of a study by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution that evaluates the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) scientific principles used to justify policy decisions. Geren and Mica were joined by Cesar Conda, executive director of the de Tocqueville Institution and coauthors Dr. S. Fred Singer and Kent Jeffreys." [5]

"Press coverage included States News Service, Stephens Publishing and Cable Congress. Several congressional staffers also attended, copies of the Geren/Mica "Dear Colleague" letter, press release and the study are enclosed."


This report is part of a larger coordinated effort to blindside the EPA. A "panel of experts" was assembled to "peer-review" the report. Naturally the majority were people with identified links to tobacco-funded institutes and think tanks, and some who share the same small set of funders.

Academic Advisory Board:

Senior Staff and Contributing Associates
Rachael Applegate,   Bruce Bartlett,   Merrick Carey,   Cesar Conda,   Gregory Fossedal,   Dave Juday,   Felix Rouse,   Aaron Stevens

Ten of the 19 names of the Academic Advisory Board are members of the Cash for Comments Economists Network. At this time S. Fred Singer was a Senior Fellow at the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, but they chose not to credit him with such close links.

These attempt to link the tobacco industry's problems to arguments about climate change were part funded by the Olin Foundation, Koch Family Foundations and Scaife Foundations.

  • 20 page Draft document sent to the Tobacco Institute [7]
  • The release about the final report (August 11 1994) It is now an attack on "environmental regulation" -- ETS, radon, pesticides and agricultural regulation, and the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program ... and based, supposedly, on the quality of the science used by the EPA. [8]
  • The final report was called Science, Economics, and Environmental Policy: A Critical Examination.' It had the approval of the Cash for Comments Economists Network. [9]

Tollison's Associates

  • Ryan Amacher:

Clemson University's Dean Ryan C. Amacher seems to be a member of the economists network as he wrote a review of the book "Smoking and the State" in an article called "Economists Explore the Dangerous Aspects of Government Protection" which was published on August 14, 1988 in The State (Columbia SC). [25][26]

  • Richard Wagner:

A long term associate in writing books for the tobacco industry was Richard E. Wagner of Florida State University who had been Tollison's old associate at Virginia Polytechnic.[27] They both worked through Tollison's portable foundation, the Center for the Study of Public Choice before Tollison translocated it to George Mason University. See this earlier ICOSI/INFOTAB speech on mis-applying cost-benefit analysis to smoking and health, and praising Tollison and Wagner for their defense of the social costs argument [28]:

the economists are quite certain that most of the alleged medical expenses do not qualify as social costs. And much larger charges of absenteeism and lost productivity are not social costs at all ... The only valid and useful analysis is one that focuses on a proposed government action.

The speaker, George Berman, then makes these points (note the prompt to stop and 'Light Up'):

There is a value to having a government which does not interfere with personal behavior and freedom of choice ... The economists tell us a social cost may exist when if falls on someone who does not share in the benefits. But if I am restricted from smoking because it bothers someone else, I have lost my benefits. That is, a cost has been placed on me. Don't those who benefit from this restriction owe me compensation for my loss of benefits? Or do anti-smokers have exclusive ownership of the air rights in a public place?

Some Former Organizations

Tollison openly displays his right-wing, unfettered free-enterprise leanings through membership of some well-known organizations. All of these are well-funded by tobacco companies:

Some Current Positions:

Consulting work

  • Aero-Go, Inc.
  • Amber Air International, Ltd.
  • American Association of Blood Banks
  • American Health Advisors, Inc.
  • American Service Corporation
  • Anheuser-Busch, Inc.
  • Ashland Oil and Chemical Co.
  • Central Auto Radiator, Inc.
  • Chevron U.S.A. Inc.
  • Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Ogden, Inc.
  • Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld, and Toll
  • Columbia Hospital System
  • Cotkin and Collins
  • Cellular Systems Supply, Inc.
  • Comdata, Inc.
  • Dentsply International, Inc.
  • Digital Development Corporation
  • Dougherty Oil and Stone, Inc.
  • Durango Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
  • Dyno Nobel Inc.
  • Easton Sports, Inc., ESPN
  • Exxon, Inc.
  • Farm Fresh, Inc.
  • Federal Trade Commission
  • Florida State University
  • Gas Appliance Manufacturers' Association
  • G. Heileman Brewing Co.
  • General Cinema, Inc.
  • General Mills, Inc.
  • Heatherstone Development, Inc.
  • H.J. Heinz, Inc.
  • Keller Rohrback, Kilgore and Kilgore
  • L'Air Liquide, Inc.
  • Lawton and Cates
  • Marine Matrix NW, Inc.
  • Markovits and Grieve
  • Marva Maid
  • McCrory Corporation
  • McWane, Inc.
  • Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes, and Lerach
  • Morrison and Hecker
  • National Basketball Association
  • National Beer Wholesalers' Association
  • National Football League
  • National Selected Morticians
  • Neal and Harwell
  • Nestle, Inc.
  • North American Rockwell, Inc.
  • PepsiCo, Inc.
  • Philip Morris, Inc.
  • PRC Realty Systems, Inc.
  • Raytheon, Inc.
  • Schering Corporation
  • Siemens, Inc.
  • Society of Manufacturing Engineers
  • Tobacco Institute
  • U.S. Banknote Company
  • U.S. Council on Wage and Price Stability
  • U.S. Department of Treasury
  • U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, University of Southern California
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Volvo Penta of the Americas, Inc.


  • Robert D. Tollison (ed), "Smoking and society: toward a more balanced assessment", Lexington Books, Lexington, Massachussetts, c1986. ISBN 0-66911-603-3.
  • Robert D. Tollison, Richard E. Wagner, "Smoking and the state: social costs, rent seeking, and public policy", Lexington Books, Lexington, Massachussetts, c1988. ISBN 0-66917-100-X.
  • Robert D. Tollison (ed), "Clearing the air: perspectives on environmental tobacco smoke", Lexington Books, Lexington, Massachussetts, c1988. ISBN 0-66918-007-6
  • Robert D. Tollison, Richard E. Wagner, "The Economics of Smoking", Kluwer Academic Publishers, October 1991, ISBN 0792392248
  • Gordon Tullock, Robert D. Tollison, Gordon L. Brady, "On the Trail of Homo Economicus: Essays by Gordon Tullock", George Mason University Press, August 1994, ISBN 0913969737
  • A list of books by Tollinson is available at

Articles and Resources


  1. "Industry Briefing Sessions for the Media", British American Tobacco Bates Number 300565582, date unknown.
  2. Sharon Boyse, "WHO Book - Additional Requests", British American Tobacco Bates Number 500811437, September 28, 1993.
  3. Sharon Boyse, "World Health Organization", January 15, 1993.
  5. "Dr. Robert D. Tollison", University of Mississippi, accessed February 2008.
  6. Public Choice Society, "Public Choice Journal", Public Choice Society, December 2005.
  7. "Public Choice", Springer US, accessed February 2008.
  8. "Current Relations: Academics", undated.
  9. Costs - Africa/Sub Continent Media Seminars, author and date unknown, British American Tobacco Bates No. 300565498/5499
  10. Media Seminars April 29, 1993, British American Tobacco Bates No. 304048414
  11. Letter from John P Rupp to Sharon Boyse regarding Venezuelan press seminar Rupp JP. Letter. November 25, 1992. British American Tobacco Bates No. 300545004
  12. Note from John P Rupp to Sharon Boyse regarding Australian workplace seminars Rupp JP. Note. September 5, 1991. British American Tobacco Bates No. 304002965/2966
  13. Broadcast Monitoring The Sleaze Factor Transcript. October 1, 1995. 28 pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2046304379/4406
  14. Tobacco Company Strategies to Undermine Tobacco Control Activieis at the World Health Organization Report. July, 2000. Philip Morris Bates No. 2081361385/1473
  15. [1] U. S. Centers for Disease Control. 2004 Surgeon General's Report - The Health Consequences of Smoking
  16. Smoking and the State Tollison RD. George Mason University. 1986. Tobacco Institute Bates No. TIMN0342436/2610
  17. Smoking and the State Tollison RD. George Mason University. 1987. Tobacco Institute Bates No.TIMN0282056/2230
  18. Smoking and the State: Social Costs, Rent Seeking, and Public Policy Tollison RD. George Mason University. July, 1987. Tobacco Institute Bates No. TIMN0306089/6264
  19. No Title. Chilcote, SD Jr. Memorandum; December 26, 1989. Lorillard Bates No. 92760697
  20. Public Affairs Management Plan Progress Report June 1988 Tobacco Institute. Report. June, 1988. Bates No. TIMN0337950/7983
  21. Public Relations Division Resource Catalogue Brown & Williamson. 1986. Bates No. 680544378/4515
  22. "Social Costs" Activities. Chilcote SD Jr. Letter. March 16, 1988. R.J. Reynolds Bates No. 506644070/4073
  23. Final Draft: Signed by AdTI Executives Conda C. Memorandum. May 17, 1994. Bates No. TI31749029
  24. Science, Economics and Environmental Policy A Critical Examination. A research report conducted by the Alexis de Tocqueville Inst Alexis de Tocqueville Institute. August 11, 1994, Bates No. 92756807/6876
  25. Economists Explore the Dangerous Aspects of Government Protection Amacher, RC. State. August 14, 1988, Bates No. 2501025901
  26. Public Relations Division Resource Catalogue Brown & Williamson. 1986. Bates No. 680544378/4515
  27. Smoking and the State Tollison RD. George Mason University. 1986. Tobacco Institute Bates No. TIMN0342436/2610
  28. Social Costs Social Values Philip Morris. Speech/presentation. May 14, 1979. Bates No.2042854425/4454

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