Internal documents from the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. appear to detail a long-running marketing strategy aimed at underage smokers.
The hundreds of pages of documents, which also include detailed descriptions of marketing efforts to minority smokers, are being released this morning by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue of legal protection for the tobacco industry.
The documents are the fourth group of internal memoranda from a major American tobacco company that describes underage smokers as the future of the market. A large cache of papers from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and a smaller set of documents from Philip Morris and Lorillard have emerged in recent weeks as well. Taken together, the companies make up virtually the entire American cigarette market.
Internal industry papers have become an increasingly important part of the armamentarium in the political battle over congressional efforts to draft a national tobacco policy. Lawmakers seeking to strengthen Congress's hand against the industry have released numerous troves of damaging documents, which have come mainly from lawsuits against the industry. Those favoring legislation based on the national settlement argue that many of the documents have been publicly available for some time and actually strengthen the need for legislation.
The documents came from state suits against the industry and were provided to The Washington Post by attorneys working for legislation based on the tobacco deal. They span nearly two decades, starting in 1972, and discuss tracking smoking habits of 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds.
A 1972 memo from consultants to Brown & Williamson recommended that the company consider Coca-Cola, apple or some other "sweet flavor cigarette. . . . It's a well known fact that teenagers like sweet products. Honey might be considered."
A 1973 memo talks about marketing KOOL menthol cigarettes to African Americans. Noting that black smokers make up 30 percent of the market for the brand, the memo states that "KOOL has shown little or no growth in share of users in the 26+ age group. Growth is from 16-25 year olds . . . at the present rate, a smoker in the 16-25 year age group will soon be three times as important to KOOL as a prospect in any other broad age category."
A 1975 report from outside marketing consultants to the company's ad agency, Ted Bates Advertising, suggested that efforts to attract beginning smokers should "(s)tart out with the basic assumption that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health -- try to go around it in an elegant manner but don't try to fix it -- it's a losing war."
Instead, the report suggests, the company should play to the smoker's understanding that smoking is "part of the illicit pleasure category" and "falls into the same category with wine, beer, shaving, wearing a bra (or purposefully not wearing one) . . . to the best of your ability (considering some legal constraints) relate the cigarette to pot,' wine, beer, sex, etc."
A 1982 document for Brown & Williamson's Canadian sister company, Imperial Tobacco Limited, describes a "Project 16" and noted that many young people begin smoking "in the 14-16 age range" to experiment and don't believe they will become addicted. "Once addiction does take place, it becomes necessary for the smoker to make peace with the accepted hazards. This is done by a wide range of rationalizations," the memo stated.
Joe Rice, one of the attorneys representing state attorneys general in their lawsuits against the tobacco industry, stressed that these documents were known to state officials when they negotiated their settlement proposal with the industry last year. Rice, who is part of a coalition pushing for quick passage of tobacco legislation based on that agreement and who stands to profit if the settlement is finalized, disagreed with officials such as Minnesota Attorney General Hubert H. Humphrey III who have said that Congress should not act until the industry's secret documents are well-aired.
New documents, Rice said, should not derail the bill. The tobacco companies are "the scum of the earth -- what else am I going to learn" by seeing new documents, he asked.
Twelve state attorneys general signed a recent letter to Congress that made a similar point: "We all know that the tobacco industry targets children. The absence of a national tobacco policy ending this practice is exactly the void that the national settlement fills."
Brown & Williamson has consistently denied that it markets to underage smokers. Joseph S. Helewicz, Brown & Williamson's vice president for public affairs, when contacted last night, said he could not comment on the documents because he had not seen them. Staff writer Saundra Torry contributed to this report.