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The 13th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health
Building capacity for a tobacco-free world
July 12-15, 2006, Washington, DC, USA
Objective: Given the disproportionate influence physicians exercise over public policy, cigarette companies have sought to neutralise the medical profession. Most well publicized is the tobacco industry's “Operation Whitecoat,” a public relations effort to undermine the scientific impact of the medical community. Far less is known, however, about the tobacco industry's effort to infiltrate the medical establishment to influence their political impact.
Methods: We have conducted several years of document research, using virtually all of the available online and hard-copy document collections, to compile instances where the cigarette manufacturers sought to infiltrate and/or influence the political positions taken by medical associations and health organisations.
Results: The tobacco industry demonstrably sought to co-opt the medical establishment. While “Operation Whitecoat” recruited individual doctors to cloud the scientific debate on primary and secondhand smoke, these industry recruits would inevitably lose public credibility. Therefore, the industry sought inroads to the larger medical establishment.
Often the tobacco companies first engaged in open dialogue, thereby assessing whether key individuals shared or might be diverted to an industry-useful standpoint. The industry's successes in this effort included obtaining the compliance of a president of a college of physicians and surgeons, the head of a medical association, a deputy minister of health, a former minister of health, and a senior WHO official.
Nevertheless, the documentary record obtained from the tobacco companies is incomplete. The operations seem covert, the cigarette companies were cautious about keeping records, and the recruited doctors risked being ostracised if their association with the tobacco industry was found out.