Abstract: Public Relations, Science, and Tobacco Harm: The Tobacco Industry Research Committee's Reviews of the Scientific Literature, 1954-1964

Martin Forster, Sue Bowden, Martin Walsh, Mark Rodgers, and Steven Duffy


Public relations played an important role in the U.S. tobacco industry's response to the accumulating scientific evidence suggesting that tobacco could cause cancer. The Tobacco Industry Research Committee, assisted by public relations firm Hill and Knowlton, Inc., has subsequently been described as a "public relations front" rather than an organization engaged in a true search for scientific knowledge. By applying techniques from health services research, this paper assesses the manner in which the TIRC reviewed the published epidemiological literature concerning tobacco and health between 1954 and 1964. It shows that the operation was reasonably comprehensive, responsive, and unbiased. The paper considers the use of this material in the organization's public relations policy, and the degree to which that policy was faithful to John Wiley Hill's belief that "public opinion is entitled to the facts in matters of public concern."