The “McGill conference” is today cited as a model for the manipulation of science and the “industry of doubt”

Mon, May 28, 2012


The leading French newspaper, Le Monde, has published a major report on how the tobacco industry recruited scientists to be part of a vast propaganda campaign to deny the clear scientific evidence that tobacco smoke causes harm to health (Le Monde, May 25, 2012).

In 1981, the British Medical Journal published the results of major epidemiological research that provided irrefutable evidence of the link between second-hand smoke and lung cancer. In order to cover up the damaging scientific evidence and to create doubt, the tobacco financed supposed scientific research, set up supposed scientific institutes and organised supposed scientific conferences.

In 1989, an “International Symposium on Environmental Tobacco Smoke”, financed by the Institute for International Health and Development, was held at McGill University. In spite of its inspirational name and in spite of giving the appearance of being a legitimate scientific institute, the Institute for International Health and Development was, in fact, a front organisation for the tobacco industry and all 80 participants attending the McGill Conference were invited by and funded by the law firm acting on behalf of Philip Morris.

The tobacco industry derived great benefit from the McGill Conference. The scientists concluded that the issue of harm caused by second-hand smoke was “a controversial subject”, that the scientific evidence was not clear and that there was no reason to ban smoking in public places. The report and conclusions of the McGill Conference were published as a book. Over 400 copies of the book were distributed to journalists and politicians in Europe and the U.S., with a covering letter from the law firm, working for the tobacco companies, which stated that the findings of the scientists were “favourable” and “balanced”  and that the scientists at the McGill Conference had recommended against any ban on smoking in public places.

The tactics used by the tobacco industry to pervert scientific information and to sabotage efforts to protect public health have been copied by the asbestos industry and other industries. Many thousands of lives have been lost as a consequence.

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