This article first appeared on the Viva la Vegan website on 7th August, 2012.


It’s not surprising that many people are uncertain about the dangers of climate change. Much confusion has been created by groups with vested interests, who have successfully utilised sophisticated PR (public relations) techniques to influence public perceptions and opinion.

In this article, I consider the link between tobacco industry PR and that of the fossil fuel sector. The story is largely one of relationships between: individuals; their areas of expertise; and industries.

Edward Bernays was a nephew of “the father of psychoanalysis”, Sigmund Freud. Bernays himself is widely regarded as being “the father of PR”. Here’s an extract on Edward Bernays from the documentary “The Century of Self” [1]:

“Bernays was the first person to take Freud’s ideas about human beings and use them to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations for the first time how they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires. Out of this would come a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying people’s inner selfish desires, one made them happy and thus docile. It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate our world today. “



Let’s look at some history of PR within the tobacco industry.


Here’s an extract from an article on the website of the American Psychological Association [2]:

Manipulating behaviors: Intrigued by Freud’s notion that irrational forces drive human behavior, Bernays sought to harness those forces to sell products for his clients. In his 1928 book, ‘Propaganda’, Bernays hypothesized that by understanding the group mind, it would be possible to manipulate people’s behavior without their even realizing it. To test this hypothesis, Bernays launched one of his most famous public relations campaigns: convincing women to smoke.”

Here’s another extract from “The Century of Self” [1]:

“Every year New York held an Easter day parade to which thousands came. Bernays decided to stage an event there . He persuaded a group of rich debutants to hide cigarettes under their clothes. Then they should join the parade and at a given signal from him they were to light up the cigarettes dramatically. Bernays then informed the press that he had heard that a group of suffragettes were preparing to protest by lighting up what they called ‘torches of freedom’.

Pat Jackson, Public Relations Adviser and Colleague of Bernays: He knew this would be an outcry, and he knew that all of the photographers would be there to capture this moment so he was ready with a phrase which was ‘torches of freedom’. So here you have a symbol, women, young women, debutantes, smoking a cigarette in public with a phrase that means anybody who believes in this kind of equality pretty much has to support them in the ensuing debate about this, because I mean torches of freedom. What’s our American point, it’s liberty, she’s holding up the torch, you see and so all this there together, there’s emotion there’s memory and there’s a rational phrase, all of this is in there together. So the next day this was not just in all the New York papers, it was across the United States and around the world. And from that point forward the sale of cigarettes to woman began to rise. He had made them socially acceptable with a single symbolic ad.”

So, in 1929, the PR industry likened smoking by women to liberty and freedom. Decades of smoking by women since then have caused untold pain and suffering. It seems that the tobacco and PR industries were influencing people to act in ways prejudicial to those people’s own interests.



A famous memo between tobacco industry executives in 1969 stated: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.” [3]

Naomi Oreskes is Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California and co-author (with Erik Conway) of “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” [4]. Speaking at the University of New South Wales in 2010, she stated:

“Now this is an incredibly important memo. It’s been reproduced by many scholars in many different contexts, and it was a crucial piece of evidence in the US federal prosecution of the tobacco industry, because it showed that the tobacco industry deliberately worked together, conspired. The tobacco industry was found guilty of conspiracy under the Racketeering and Corrupt Organisations Act, because of documents like this that showed that the tobacco industry consciously set out to challenge the scientific evidence by manufacturing doubt.”

Professor Oreskes went on to say: “But one of the key insights the tobacco industry realised early on was that for this doubt-mongering campaign to be credible, for it to be effective for journalists who’d quote them, it wouldn’t do for tobacco industry executives to get up and say, we don’t really know if tobacco is harmful. . . .  But if the tobacco industry could get scientists to say it, and particularly if they could get distinguished scientists, prestigious scientists, a president of the US National Academy of Sciences to say it, well that would have a lot of credibility. In particular, the documents show that the tobacco industry understood that it would have credibility with the media . . .  So a key component of this strategy was the recruitment of scientists, was finding scientists who would be willing to participate in this activity.”


In his ground-breaking book on climate change, “Heat: How to stop the planet burning”, Guardian columnist George Monbiot reported on the tactics of tobacco company, Philip Morris.  Following the December, 1992 release of the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s report on the adverse health effects of passive smoking, an internal memo between executives of the company in 1993 stated:

“Our overriding objective is to discredit the EPA report . . . Concurrently, it is our objective to prevent states and cities . . . from passive smoking bans.” [5]

For this purpose, the company hired a PR firm, APCO, to develop an appropriate strategy. The firm established a “fake citizens group”, The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC).

Tobacco industry communications stated that it was important ‘to ensure that TASSC has a diverse group of contributors’; to ‘link the tobacco issue with other more ‘politically correct’ products’; and to associate scientific studies that cast smoking in a bad light with ‘broader questions about government research and regulations’ – such as ‘global warming’, ‘nuclear waste disposal’ and ‘biotechnology’. APCO would engage in the ‘intensive recruitment of high-profile representatives from business and industry, scientists, public officials, and other individuals interested in promoting the use of sound science’”. [6]

Monbiot reported that, “TASSC did as its founders . . . suggested, and sought funding from other sources.” Those sources included the fossil fuel sector. He says, “The website it has financed – – has been the main entrepot for almost every kind of climate-change denial that has found its way into the mainstream press. It equates environmentalists with Nazis, communists and terrorists. It flings at us the accusations that could justifiably be levelled against itself: the website claims, for example, that it is campaigning against ‘faulty scientific data and analysis used to advance special and, often, hidden agendas’. I have lost count of the number of correspondents who, while questioning manmade global warming, have pointed me there.”

He also stated that the tobacco and fossil fuel lobbies “use the same terms, which appear to have been invented by Philip Morris’s consultants. ‘Junk science’ meant peer-reviewed studies showing that smoking was linked to cancer and other diseases. ‘Sound science’ meant studies sponsored by the tobacco industry suggesting that the link was inconclusive.”


Professor S. Fred Singer is described by Naomi Oreskes as, “the bête noire of many climate scientists, who continues today to attack climate science”. He is a former director of the U.S. National Weather Satellite Service. According to Professor Oreskes:

“He often claims to be a climate scientist because of this connection to the weather service, but he was the director of the weather service not in his capacity as a climate scientist, which he was not, but as a rocket scientist who knew how to get those satellites up into space.” [3]

She says, “In the 1980s, Singer worked with the Reagan administration to cast doubt on the significance and severity of acid rain, arguing that controlling sulphur emissions was a billion dollar solution to a million dollar problem, so implying that environmentalists had exaggerated the significance of acid rain, and it wouldn’t be significant enough to justify what it would cost to fix. So this is an argument we hear again today regarding global warming.”

In challenging (with lawyer Kent Jeffreys) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the dangers of passive smoking, he wrote in 1993, “If we do not carefully delineate the government’s role in regulating dangers, there is essentially no limit to how much government can ultimately control our lives.” [6]

He was challenging the EPA’s conclusions: that tobacco was a proven carcinogen; that second-hand smoke was responsible for 3,000 additional adult cancer deaths each year in the United States alone; that second-hand smoke was responsible for as many as 300,000 additional cases of bronchitis and pneumonia in infants and young children; and that second-hand smoke was correlated with an increase in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or cot death.

It appears that Singer was following and promoting an anti-regulation ideology. That view is supported by the background of various organisations linked to the work of himself and/or Jeffreys. They include (with descriptions from Naomi Oreskes):

Alexis de Tocqueville Institute: Published the report of Singer and Jeffreys. It is a think tank whose goal is “the extension and perfection of democracy and economic liberty and political freedom”.

Cato Institute: A think tank to whom Kent Jeffreys was affiliated. It is “dedicated to individual liberty, limited government and free markets”.

Competitive Enterprise Institute: Another think tank to whom Kent Jeffreys was affiliated. It is dedicated to “expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free markets”.

Professor Singer is also on the “global warming experts” list of The Heartland Institute. [7]

Here are some comments on the Heartland Institute from an editorial in the journal “Nature”:

“Despite criticizing climate scientists for being overconfident about their data, models and theories, the Heartland Institute proclaims a conspicuous confidence in single studies and grand interpretations….makes many bold assertions that are often questionable or misleading…. Many climate sceptics seem to review scientific data and studies not as scientists but as attorneys, magnifying doubts and treating incomplete explanations as falsehoods rather than signs of progress towards the truth. … The Heartland Institute and its ilk are not trying to build a theory of anything. They have set the bar much lower, and are happy muddying the waters.” [8]

According to the institute’s web site, “it is a non-profit ‘think tank’ that questions the reality and import of climate change, second-hand smoke health hazards, and a host of other issues that might seem to require government regulation.” [9]

Professor Singer’s views about government regulation were also apparent in the following comments about regulation of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in 1989:

“And then there are those with hidden agendas of their own, not just to save the environment, but to change our economic system. Some of these coercive utopians are socialists, some are technology-hating luddites, and most have a great desire to regulate on as large a scale as possible.” [3]

What if we had adopted Professor Singer’s position on CFCs?

According to the journal “Australasian Science”, the ozone layer would have almost disappeared by 2007, and CFCs would have been by far the most significant contributor to global warming:

“If you express CFCs in CO2-e [CO2-equivalent], and if you look at the growth of CFCs prior to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, you can estimate the amount of CO2-e emissions that Montreal has saved. This calculation shows that, by 2012, the Montreal Protocol will have prevented the equivalent of between 9.7 and 12.5 billion tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere every year. On the other hand, if all countries meet their Kyoto targets by 2012, we will save the equivalent of only about 2 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. You can also show that, if CFCs had continued to grow at their 1970s growth rates, they would be the gases having the biggest impact on global temperatures today (they would have also almost completely destroyed the ozone layer). Were it not for their other stratospheric side-effects, perhaps we would be setting up deodorant-trading schemes to control them!” [10]



In summary, some important aspects of the PR industry’s influence on cigarette smoking and climate change can be summarised as:


The concept of the “all-consuming self”, as referred to in respect of the early achievements of Edward Bernays, seems relevant to ideas on climate change that have been considered by Clive Hamilton in his book “Requiem for a Species” [11].

Commenting on the book, La Trobe University academic Robert Manne said:

“Perhaps it is the character type that flourishes under the conditions of consumer capitalism that presents the primary obstacle to taking action on climate change. Faced by an apparent choice between the continuation of our lifestyle and the wellbeing of our planet, perhaps it is the continuation of our lifestyle that in the end we will decide to choose.” [12]


Let’s hope for the future of our planet and its current and future inhabitants that we choose more wisely than indicated in that comment.

Blog Author: Paul Mahony (Also on Twitter, Scribd and Slideshare)


In 1960, the efforts of Bernays to inform the public of the dangers of smoking earned him praise from Action on Smoking & Health. He said that, had he known in 1928 what he knew in 1960, he would have refused the offer to be involved in the smoking campaign. [13]


[1]      “Century of  Self – Part 1 – Happiness Machines”, An Adam Curtis film, broadcast on BBC TV in 2002, (Accessed 3 August, 2012)

[2]     Held, L. “Psychoanalysis shapes consumer culture. Or how Sigmund Freud, his nephew and a box of cigars forever changed American marketing.”, Monitor on Psychology, December 2009, Vol 40, No. 11, Print version: page 32, (Accessed 3 August, 2012)

[3]     Prof. Naomi Oreskes, co-author of “Merchants of Doubt” on The Science Show, ABC Radio National, 8 January, 2011,—merchants-of-doubt/3012690 (Accessed 3 August, 2012)

[4]     Oreskes, N. & Conway, E.M. “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming”, 2010, Bloomsbury Press, (Accessed 3 August, 2012)

[5]     Monbiot, G., “Heat: How to stop the planet burning”, 2006, Allen Lane, p. 31 (Accessed 3 August, 2012)

[6]     Singer, S.F. & Jeffreys, K. “EPA and the Science of Environmental Tobacco Smoke”, cited in Prof. Naomi Oreskes, co-author of “Merchants of Doubt” on The Science Show, ABC Radio National, 8 January, 2011

[7]     Source Watch, (Accessed 3 August, 2012)

[8]     “Nature”, Volume: 475, Pages: 423–424, 28 July 2011, DOI: doi:10.1038/475423b (2011-07-28). “Heart of the matter”. Nature : Nature Publishing Group. Retrieved on 14 August 2011, cited in

[9]     Source Watch, (Accessed 3 August, 2012)

[10]   Anon., “The global warming potential of deodorants”, Australasian Science, Nov/Dec, 2007, p. 39

[11]   Hamilton, C., “Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change”, 2010, Allen & Unwin, (Accessed 3 August, 2012)

[12]   Manne, R, “How can climate change denialism be explained?”, The Drum Opinion, ABC, 9 December, 2011, (Accessed 3 August, 2012)

[13]    The Museum of Public Relations, “Edward L. Bernays, 1960: Dangers of Smoking”,


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