Wolves in sheep’s clothing: how big tobacco wanted to mimic the global warming sceptics and establish a “fake” NGO

[Still on a break, but I just have to share this information!]

I’m presently reading “Merchants of doubt: how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming” by historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

It is a brilliantly researched and documented study.

It draws the links between industry funding and denial on a range of scientific issues. In many instances, the very same individuals who accepted money from “big tobacco” also accepted funding from “big oil” to question the reality of climate change.

A great deal of the primary material for this book was unearthed via tobacco related litigation (via the discovery process), and shows the links between “dissenting” scientists and the tobacco industry.

These materials are freely available in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library from the University of California.

Of course, I had to jump into this collection and start research myself. And I have to say I’ve found some fascinating documents.

But one of them made me jump out of my seat when I read it.

Tobacco and big oil: a positive feed-back loop of denial

Oreskes and Conway’s thesis appears solid: the techniques used to delay action on regulating tobacco have been replicated by the climate change “deniers”.

However it also appears the climate change “sceptics” influenced the tactics of the tobacco lobby. Call it a “positive” feed back loop of denial.

Perhaps the most stunning evidence of this is a (then confidential) report by US public relations company Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchen (MBD) advising Phillip Morris to create a pro-tobacco NGO to lobby for the industry.

MBD specialises “opposition research” – studying the motives and tactics of NGOs and government agencies either opposing or seeking to regulate industry.

Incredibly, MBD suggests the tobacco NGO should be modelled on the industry funded Global Climate Coalition! (GCC)

GCC was a coalition of corporations opposed to action on climate change. Members included Shell, DuPont, Exxon and BP, and they worked hard to blunt efforts such as the Kyoto Protocol.

Titled “An analysis of Non-Governmental Organisations form a United Nations perspective“, it suggests the tobacco industry set up a NGO in order to represent their interests at the global level:

“A comprehensive strategy to influence the tobacco-control vehicle that the eventually emerges from UN/WHO policies would be enhanced significantly by establishing an NGO capability to help counter anti-tobacco NGO influence at international agencies…”

It is a deeply cynical and Machiavellian document that essentially coaches Philip Morris on how to set up an NGO, work with other interest groups and corporations and influence policy debate at the national and international level.

It is a 1997 document, and throughout the 254 page document the GCC is repeatedly cited as a model:

“A tobacco related NGO – one that represents a spectrum of interests and concerns – would, given the appropriate strategy, have a significant impact on the progress and content of an eventual framework treaty on tobacco control…

…It could be a very effective at lobbying member states and at countering the more outrageous proposals of anti-tobacco forces. This doesn’t mean it would be difficult for the accrediting body to deny a tobacco NGO status at the conference equal to that of health and welfare groups. The industry has an obvious “expertise” in the subject matter and it has the constituency and membership. It would be equivalent to the Global Climate Change Coalition in nearly all respects.”

The GCC operated between 1989 and 2002.

It collapsed when the 2001 IPCC report confirmed the reality of climate change and CGG employed scientists stated the evidence for climate change was “undeniable”.

Seriously, I don’t think “proof” of the links between industry and denial gets better than this. Clearly they employ the same tactics to deceive and mislead.

I’m finding incredible stuff here, including an analysis of how BP set up its “green washing” activities on climate change.

All of this will be produced on the revamped version of the blog, but I had to share this stunner.

Cheers, Mike @ WtD

27 thoughts on “Wolves in sheep’s clothing: how big tobacco wanted to mimic the global warming sceptics and establish a “fake” NGO

  1. John R T says:

    Áll that glitters is not gold.´

    Again, you have been mis-led: re Oreskes´work, you say, ¨It is a brilliantly researched and documented study.¨ Just because it shines from your perspective means nothing: many unexamined objects will appear, momentarily, bright and new.

    On your break, maybe as you ´revamp´ WtD, I suggest you spend a few hours with ClimateEtc, starting with

    Also, at Curry´s site, check out the Denizen post. For example:
    Richard S Courtney | November 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Reply
    I am an Independent Consultant on matters concerning energy and the environment based in the UK whose present work mostly consists of providing commissioned advice to politicians.

    I was the Senior Materials Scientist of the UK’s Coal Research Establishment (CRE) until 1995 when the completion of the UK’s coal industry made me redundant having worked there for nearly 3 decades.
    As before, if your software suite has no spell-check, it would be a good investment: your misspellings are very distracting.

  2. Fine document. I’m disappointed you didn’t pull out the classification stuff: the gongo and bongo bits 🙂

  3. Sou says:

    Ha ha – a comment directing you to the bridge to nowhere lady.

    On topic, thanks for your post – it’s fascinating, if alarming, the lengths people go to!

    I’m sorry to miss Dr Oreskes talks. Are you going? I’ve yet to read the book. Maybe I’ll put out hints for Christmas 🙂

  4. Nescio says:

    Wanted to share this (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1328366/John-Shimkus-Global-warming-wont-destroy-planet-God-promised-Noah.html) with you. No need to worry, apparently AGW is not a problem, God promised not to destroy the planet a second time!

  5. JG says:

    @John R T

    Again, you have been mis-led: re Oreskes´work, you say, ¨It is a brilliantly researched and documented study.¨ Just because it shines from your perspective means nothing: many unexamined objects will appear, momentarily, bright and new.

    How curious. I too am reading the Oreskes/Conway book and wholeheartedly agree with Mike’s assessment of it. Perhaps it’s because, like Mike, I’m not swallowing hook, line and sinker every last piece of reassuring bullshit promoted on denialist websites.

    your misspellings are very distracting

    They are indeed. But such criticism might be better coming from someone who hasn’t just typed “mis-led”.

  6. klem says:

    I agree with John RT in his assessment. The book sucked.

    An if u tink his spellin is bad you shood c his taste in shoos.

    • JG says:


      I agree with John RT in his assessment. The book sucked.

      Just wondering, by the way: have you actually read it, or are you just smearing it on principle?

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Really Klem “it sucked’? Have your read it?

      Which chapters did you disagree with? Which of the primary documents do you think have no relevance?

      Can you provide page numbers for those parts of the book you did not agree with?

      More likely you have not read it and have dismissed the evidence for fear it may challenge your beliefs

      • JG says:

        Have you read it?

        Seems like we’ve both had the same reply to the same question, doesn’t it? Of course he hasn’t.

  7. JG says:


    Do you get paid directly by ExxonMobil and Philip Morris, or are you just one of their useful idiots?

  8. […] used by a handful of denialist scientists to successfully muddy the waters of climate change. Wolves in sheep’s clothing: how big tobacco wanted to mimic the global warming sceptics and es… Oreskes is currently on a tour of Australia. Here is a short interview she gave on Australian […]

  9. John Mashey says:

    Actually, I think this was a (failed) attempt by MBD to scoop up some money; PR agencies and thinktanks were always making proposal, if you rummage the tobacco archives.
    Naomi&Erik mention Allan M. Brandt’s “The Cigarette CentruY,” which is a really good history, discusses MBD’s try on pp.476-478.

    Actually, if you want cynical, one of my favorites from the tobacco archives is The Importance of Younger Adults, ~1984, which starts:

    “Younger adults are the only source of replacement smokers . Repeated
    government studies (Appendix B) have shown that :
    • Less than one-third of smokers (31%) start after age 18 .
    • Only 5% of smokers start after age 24 .
    Thus, today’s younger adult smoking behavior will largely determine the
    trend of Industry volume over the next several means 69% started at or before 18 … I’ll be you never knew 12-18-year-olds were “younger adults.”

    But, tobacco has had a long intersection with the same thinktanks that do climte anti-science
    1) Search in the archives for heartland institute or joseph bast.

    2) See <a href="http://www.desmogblog.com/crescendo-climategate-cacophonyCCC, Appendix A.6.1, (p.92-). The pages show funders, entities funded, most of whom are involved in climate anti-science. Note that the top row has “T” for those with tobacco connections… Those most involved in climate issues also have tobacco connections, and almost all are nonprofits.

    it takes great marketeers and lobbyists to get children addicted to tobacco (since, if you don’t get most of them between 12-18, while their brains are developing, it’s harder to get them later, and much easier to stop). Comparatively, confusing people about climate is child’s play…

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Thanks John, as far as I can tell nothing came of the proposal. However, what is interesting to me is the direct comparison with the GCC. The parallels between the tobacco industry and industry funded denial industry are made quite clear.

      Re the above: amazing we let this companies continue to operate.

  10. John Mashey says:

    Comparison with GCC: oh yes, this was amusing. MBD was a bit late to the game pioneered by Hill and Knowlton, but it indeed shows ideas do go both ways. You may also want to look up Fred Singer’s piece on secondhand smoke done via deTocquevile thinktank.

  11. “The GCC operated between 1989 and 2002.

    It collapsed when the 2001 IPCC report confirmed the reality of climate change and CGG employed scientists stated the evidence for climate change was ‘undeniable’.”

    As I recall, the GCC was killed by the Pew Center which founded a pro-reality business coalition that sucked the membership away from GCC. That was a pretty good trick (best sense of the word) by the Pew folks that they should get kudos for.

  12. DaveMcRae says:

    I got a few links to her gear at http://galahs.blogspot.com/2010/03/naomi-oreskes.html the best being a Uni Cali. TV talk of hers on this subject Dec2007, 58min, http://www.uctv.tv/search-details.aspx?showID=13459

    I got interested in her work when it must’ve been ~4 years ago, my mum asked me about global warming, “is it true?”. Having a bit of an science education, the first thing to do is a literature survey on the topic. It’s easy today in the internet age. So I googled and top link was her lit survey paper published in Science 2004. My work was done for me http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686# and I could report to mum (also myself too)

    As she says in the UCTV talk, having published this paper resulted in hate mail and death threats. Instead of being intimidated, as a science historian she investigated as to why the nuttery. Merchants of Doubt is the result.

  13. JG says:

    Has anyone else noticed that our two “sceptics”, on being asked if they’d actually read the book they were so blithely trashing, fell sort of silent and coy all of a sudden?

  14. DaveMcRae says:

    I haven’t seen this yet as I’m stuck at work, I’m sure it’s very good.
    http://hot-topic.co.nz/the-climate-show-2-oreskes-and-the-merchants-of-doubt/ (looks to be a vid of her Uni Queensland talk)

  15. […] (go on, someone, send me a copy for Christmas, me c/o CSR St Johns House will reach me :-). But WTD (in the midst of “turning serious”) has a post on a particular tobacco-industry […]

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