Inventing conflicts of interest: a history of tobacco industry tactics

Am J Public Health. 2012 Jan;102(1):63-71. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300292. Epub 2011 Nov 28.


Confronted by compelling peer-reviewed scientific evidence of the harms of smoking, the tobacco industry, beginning in the 1950s, used sophisticated public relations approaches to undermine and distort the emerging science. The industry campaign worked to create a scientific controversy through a program that depended on the creation of industry-academic conflicts of interest. This strategy of producing scientific uncertainty undercut public health efforts and regulatory interventions designed to reduce the harms of smoking. A number of industries have subsequently followed this approach to disrupting normative science. Claims of scientific uncertainty and lack of proof also lead to the assertion of individual responsibility for industrially produced health risks.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / history
  • Conflict of Interest*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Mass Media
  • Research Support as Topic
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / history
  • Tobacco Industry / ethics
  • Tobacco Industry / history*
  • Tobacco Industry / legislation & jurisprudence