“If our product is harmful . . . we’ll stop making it.”

by Andrew Gelman on September 2, 2012 · 7 comments

in Health Care,Policy,Science

I’m used to hearing the argument that, sure, cigarettes are addictive, but everyone has known forever that smoking caused cancer, and that cigarette manufacturers could hardly be blamed for supplying a consumer good that many people wanted. So I was surprised to learn the following, from historian Robert Proctor:

It’s interesting to see that, at least in public, cigarette executives taking a much more direct position that they did not want to be in the position of giving people cancer: “If our product is harmful . . . we’ll stop making it.”

Further background (including the cartoon of Fred Flintstone smoking) at the sister blog.


Jacob September 2, 2012 at 6:26 pm

It is surprising that a company would actually regret advertising a harmful product. You would think that a company would not care about the dangers of its product and instead try to make as much money off the product as possible. George Weissman’s words show that he is not selfish because cares more about the health of his people than making money.

Benjamin Geer September 2, 2012 at 7:46 pm

The statements quoted here can only pure marketing. It’s not possible that in the 1980s, cigarette company execs still didn’t know that smoking causes cancer, at a time when the medical profession had long since concluded that it does.

Andrew Gelman September 2, 2012 at 10:25 pm


None the less, they said it–which goes a long way toward shooting down the “everybody knew all along it caused cancer” defense.

kerokan September 3, 2012 at 5:00 am

Off topic, but I don’t like the new web design on Monkey Cage. The blog posts look cramped between the two columns on both sides. It is much easier to read this post on “andrewgelman.com” than here on Monkey Cage.

J David Morgan September 3, 2012 at 6:36 am

So they spent years claiming smoking was beneficial for health;
then they spent years denying it was harmful to health;

and now that the evidence is overwhelming – they abandon what they said about stopping production if it were proved to be dangerous.

Lawmakers have been extremely tolerant of their lies and broken promises – and still they go on….

J Burns September 3, 2012 at 8:49 pm

This is interesting how companies claim that if they knew cigarettes were harmful they would stop selling them. However, it makes me wonder why companies wouldn’t find proof that would have confirmed or denied “the deceptive claims” about health risks. It’s interesting that they show concern for the health of others but they didn’t try to investigate the possible problem.

Andrew Gelman September 3, 2012 at 8:59 pm


No, according to Proctor’s book the companies put in a lot of research trying to design a safe cigarette, but they just weren’t able to do it. They were investigating the health problem but doing these investigations in-house, not reporting their findings to the public.

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