Looking through a keyhole at the tobacco industry. The Brown and Williamson documents

JAMA. 1995 Jul 19;274(3):219-24.


Objective: To introduce a series of papers discussing previously undocumented tobacco industry activities regarding strategies to avoid products liability litigation, understand nicotine addiction, and manipulate both internal and external scientific research on the effects of both active and passive smoking.

Data sources: Documents from Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W), the British American Tobacco Company (BAT), and other tobacco interests provided by an anonymous source, obtained from Congress, and received from the private papers of a former BAT officer.

Study selection: All available materials, including confidential reports regarding research and internal memoranda exchanged between tobacco industry lawyers.

Conclusions: These documents provide our first look at the inner workings of the tobacco industry during the crucial period in which the scientific case that smoking is addictive and kills smokers solidified. The documents show a sophisticated legal and public relations strategy to avoid liability for the diseases induced by tobacco use. The documents show that lawyers steered scientists away from particular research avenues, which is inconsistent with the company's purported disbelief in the causation and addiction claims; if the company had been genuinely unconvinced by the causation and addiction hypotheses, then it should have had no concern that new research would provide ammunition for the enemy. Quite the contrary, the documents show that B&W and BAT recognized more than 30 years ago that nicotine is addictive and that tobacco smoke is "biologically active" (eg, carcinogenic).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Liability, Legal
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Nicotiana*
  • Nicotine*
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Public Health
  • Research
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Substance-Related Disorders*
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Truth Disclosure
  • United States


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Nicotine