“Operation Berkshire”: the international tobacco companies' conspiracy

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7257.371 (Published 5 August 2000)
Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:371

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  1. Neil Francey, barrister at lawa,
  2. Simon Chapman (simonc@health.usyd.edu.au), associate professorb
  1. a Wentworth Chambers, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
  2. b VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: S Chapman, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
  • Accepted 27 June 2000

Advocates of tobacco control worldwide have long suspected collusion among major international tobacco companies over their refusal to acknowledge that smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other serious diseases. Tobacco industry documents now available on the internet disclose the establishment of a conspiracy between Philip Morris, R J Reynolds, British-American Tobacco, Rothmans, Reemtsma, and UK tobacco companies Gallaher and Imperial, dating from 1977. The documents also disclose the objects of the conspiracy: basically, to protect the industry's commercial interests both by promoting controversy over smoking and disease and through strategies directed at reassuring smokers.

The documents also disclose the means of implementing the conspiracy by utilising national manufacturers' associations coordinated through the International Committee on Smoking Issues, later to become the International Tobacco Information Centre. We expose the formation of the conspiracy and its objectives and means of implementation over the ensuing decades.

Summary points

For decades international tobacco companies have denied or disputed that smoking causes serious diseases, and advocates of tobacco control worldwide have long suspected collusion over this issue

Internal documents from the tobacco industry now available on the internet disclose that in 1977 seven of the world's major tobacco companies conspired to promote “controversy” over smoking and disease, in an exercise called Operation Berkshire

This conspiracy resulted in the International Committee on Smoking Issues (subsequently the International Tobacco Information Centre), which operated though an internationally coordinated network of national manufacturers' associations to retard measures for tobacco control

Thousands of documents now available on the internet evidence the implementation of the objectives of Operation Berkshire

Methods

After learning of a document referring to “Operation Berkshire,” we searched for documents on the website tobaccoarchives.com, and we collected and reviewed documents relevant to the conspiracy between the major tobacco companies and to its objectives and implementation.1 The website provides …

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