Identifying carcinogens: the tobacco industry and regulatory politics in the United States

Int J Health Serv. 2006;36(4):747-66. doi: 10.2190/A4MN-6WG5-J7TA-KQ00.


The process of identifying carcinogens for purposes of health and safety regulation has been contested internationally. The U.S. government produces a "Report on Carcinogens" every two years, which lists known and likely human carcinogenic substances. In the late 1990s the tobacco industry responded to the proposed listing of secondhand smoke with a multi-part strategy. Despite industry efforts to challenge both the substance of the report and the agency procedures, environmental tobacco smoke was declared by the agency in 2000 to be a known human carcinogen. A subsequent lawsuit, launched by chemical interests but linked to the tobacco industry, failed, but it produced a particular legal precedent of judicial review that is favorable to all regulated industries. The authors argue that, in this case, tobacco industry regulation contradicts academic expectations of business regulatory victories. However, the tobacco industry's participation in the regulatory process influenced the process in favor of all regulated industry.

Publication types

  • Legal Case

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogens / classification*
  • Carcinogens / toxicity
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Decision Making, Organizational
  • Government Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Nicotiana / chemistry
  • Nicotine / classification
  • Nicotine / toxicity
  • Politics*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Public Policy*
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Tobacco Industry / economics
  • Tobacco Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / analysis
  • United States
  • United States Dept. of Health and Human Services / organization & administration*
  • United States Public Health Service


  • Carcinogens
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Nicotine