'It's interesting how few people die from smoking': tobacco industry efforts to minimize risk and discredit health promotion

Eur J Public Health. 2007 Apr;17(2):162-70. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckl097. Epub 2006 Jul 12.


Background: It is well known that the tobacco industry has placed articles in scientific literature to maintain controversy over the dangers of tobacco use, while claiming that smokers are well-informed about risk. This study illuminates an industry attempt to directly undermine popular understanding of the hazards of smoking using an industry-created organization called Associates for Research in the Science of Enjoyment (ARISE).

Methods: Searches of tobacco industry documents contained in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, British American Tobacco Documents Library, and British Columbia's Tobacco Industry documents were performed as well as searches of the LexisNexis database for news articles on ARISE published between 1989 and 2005. Qualitative analysis focused on industry motives, media strategies, and rhetorical tactics; quantitative content analysis focused on media coverage.

Results: Between 1989 and 2005, at least 846 articles appeared in the European, Australian, and US press mentioning ARISE, its members, or its activities. Many of these articles presented two themes: smoking was a healthful 'pleasure', and health promotion practices, including cessation, were stressful and unhealthy. Few articles included responses from health advocates, questioned ARISE's claims, or mentioned its funding.

Conclusions: ARISE successfully planted stories in the press, designed to allay the health concerns of smokers and to discredit health promotion information and practices. ARISE's later interest in food suggests that counterfactual 'health' messages on almost any topic could be promoted similarly, regardless of their implausibility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bibliometrics*
  • Congresses as Topic
  • Deception
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Mass Media / statistics & numerical data*
  • Propaganda
  • Scientific Misconduct*
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Tobacco Industry / ethics*