The Tobacco Conspiracy

The Tobacco Conspiracy is a history of the tobacco industry’s lies and scams. From the US in 1953 to Africa today, the controversy between individual responsibility and corporate greed is portrayed in a lucid, undaunted manner. From scientific frauds to working with organized crime, tobacco companies show their hidden agenda more clearly than ever in this theatrically released documentary. More than three years of investigating all over the world has allowed Nadia Collot to decipher the attitudes of an industry that, in spite of many prevention campaigns still expands its power at the cost of public health. The film is filled with statistics such as 13,000 people die from smoking related causes each day. One hundred million smokers died in the 20th century, and the prediction is made that a billion will die in the 21st. A former smoker, Collot admits that it has taken her 20 years to quit. A Canadian-European collaboration, this film is a no-holds barred attack on the global tobacco industry. The filmmaker does not apologize for her lack of balance as the accusation is made early in the film that the tobacco industry has been lying to the world for decades. Using proof from tobacco company documents, this film exposes a number of their tactics. Three aspects of industry behavior are studied: 1. Scientific subversion: proof of the manipulation of scientific evidence and buying out of scientists to maintain controversy over the health issues related to smoking, but even more so today, related to environmental second-hand tobacco smoke. 2. Ideological subversion: whether it be through clever and disguised product placements on screen or TV, creating its own biased health messages, implementing subtle and ingenious marketing tactics or using political lobbying maneuvers, the tobacco industry has gone to unbelievable extents to do what it says it will never do. 3. Economic strategies: to develop as fast as possible, to infiltrate closed-market countries, to better reach the young and the poor, and to smuggle to avoid import taxes are some of the ways the industry has chosen to organize its international growth. In 1953, the tobacco companies, tired of being at war with each other, met to form a common front. Although they knew then that 94% of lung cancer deaths were smokers, they issued “The Frank Statement” in which they denied that smoking causes cancer. This is described as the biggest public relations campaign in all history. They promised that, if cigarettes proved dangerous, they would be pulled off the market. While a clear lie, there was no political opposition until the 1990s. At a hearing organized by 46 American states, in 1998, each of the seven tobacco company executives who were called to testify deny that nicotine is addictive. The resolution was that they would pay 201 billion dollars to avoid a verdict. They were also forbidden to market to children (in the United States) and to make available to the public all of their documents. No documents could be destroyed until 2008. While they released millions of pages of useless information, dogged research unearthed some interesting admissions: “Nicotine is addictive. We are in the business of selling an addictive drug.” The film shows that the tobacco companies have had a free hand in what they did. When other companies were intrigued by the success of Marlboro cigarettes, they analyzed the contents. They discovered that ammonia had been added to the tobacco in order to increase the nicotine uptake into the body. Instead of reporting this discovery, the other companies also added ammonia to their cigarettes. Dr. William Farone, former director of research for Phillip Morris, states that he initially joined the company to search for ways to make cigarettes safer. After hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to find these ways, none were ever implemented. Successes in the battle against the tobacco industry are celebrated in the film. Canada was the first to place graphic warnings on cigarette packages. Since 2001, other countries have followed suit. Increasing the cost of cigarettes, limiting advertising, making youth access more difficult have all had an impact in reducing smoking in young people to 19%. Anti-smoking commercials have become common. Some of these ads are featured in the film. Collot shows how despite the restriction on tobacco advertising, the companies have managed to infiltrate their way into movies and television. Following a montage of famous movie scenes which feature smoking, the film states that smoking in movies actually declined over the decades. However, since the 1990s, smoking in movies has increased to the point where it is worse now than 50 years ago. Sylvester Stallone was paid $500,000 to show smoking in five of his films. Philip Morris paid to have smoking included in Superman II. There is no smoking in Superman I. The accusation is made that the companies work together to push the limits regarding anti-smoking laws. The final scene of the film shows a person in a coffin made of and filled with cigarette packages. Words across the screen state that, since this film began, 376 people have died because of tobacco, then the number changes to 377. This is a hard-hitting film. The information provided is documented, expert opinion is provided, and while the bias is clear, denying the message would be a challenge. The Tobacco Conspiracy should be required viewing for all high school students. Documentary 2006 93 min. Tabac, La Conspiration

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