Peter Jennings died of lung cancer over the weekend. He was one of five million people globally who die each year of smoking-related diseases. We speak with longtime tobacco industry critic Dr. Stan Glantz and Anna White of Essential Action. [includes rush transcript]
Longtime ABC news anchor Peter Jennings died this week of lung cancer. 89% of people with lung cancer smoke cigarettes. Peter Jennings was a heavy smoker. He quit, but started smoking again after 9/11. We look at the industry behind Jennings’ untimely death.
- Stan Glantz, professor medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He published the Cigarette Papers, a collection of internal documents leaked to him from the Brown and Williamson tobacco corporation.
- Anna White, coordinator of Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control at Essential Action
- The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library at the University of California, San Francisco contains 7 million documents related to advertising, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and scientific research of tobacco products.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk about the industry behind Peter Jennings’ early death, we’re joined on the line by long time tobacco industry critic, Stan Glantz. He published The Cigarette Papers, a collection of internal documents leaked to him from the Brown and Williamson tobacco corporation, and in our Washington studio, Anna White, coordinator of Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control at Essential Information. Dr. Stan Glantz, let’s begin with you, and talk about what we’re not hearing about as much this week with the death of Peter Jennings.
STAN GLANTZ: Well, I haven’t seen all of the coverage, but none of the coverage I’ve seen really talked about the fact that he was killed by the tobacco industry and that he died a very premature and quite horrible death because he was addicted to nicotine, and one of the ironies in this is that Jennings, probably more than any other major mainstream reporter, covered the tobacco issue and did several very fine hour-long primetime documentaries on the tobacco industry and the politics of tobacco and also covered the issue probably more than any of the other major network newscasts.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what the media misses, in general, given — well, what are the global statistics?
STAN GLANTZ: Well, the tobacco industry is by far the leading preventable cause of death in the world today. It kills about 450,000 people a year in the United States and about five million worldwide, and the death rate worldwide is climbing very, very rapidly, mostly in the developing world because the tobacco industry as part of globalization has been very aggressively invading the developing world and taking advantage of things like the World Trade Organization to bypass or overrule local public health laws. The tobacco industry has a long tradition, going back to at least the 1950s, of aggressively discouraging reporters and editors from talking about tobacco when people die of lung cancer, heart disease and other tobacco-related deaths, by simply harassing the media whenever they talk about it and by writing letters, by making phone calls from high level executives and board members to high level people in the media, and making — the message is out there very clearly to reporters that if you talk about tobacco, after you finish the story, then you’re going to have to spend a lot of time dealing with these high level complaints, and the same message is sent to editors, and so there is a general aversion to covering the tobacco story. It’s very rare when someone dies of smoking to hear that mentioned. There is a long list of celebrities who tobacco killed, who you almost never see it mentioned in their obituaries.
AMY GOODMAN: Anna White, you’re with Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control at Essential Action. Your thoughts today?
ANNA WHITE: Well, I would echo some of what Stan Glantz just said, but I think that Peter Jennings is one in a long line of celebrities who have been killed by tobacco, you know, most recently, Johnny Carson and George Harrison of the Beatles, all the way going back to Clark Gable and Desi Arnez, but also, he is one of over 400,000 people in the U.S. who are being killed by tobacco, and we need to put celebrities in that larger context. Secondly, I would say that the — we forget about the tobacco industry being responsible for his death, and that is what is being left out of most of the news coverage that have I seen. And this is part of a large public relations campaign that this tobacco industry has very successfully carried out that includes everything from their so-called youth smoking prevention programs that put the blame on smoking on youth and not the tobacco advertising to their general so-called corporate responsibility campaigns donating money to art museums and other cultural events, trying to present themselves as responsible corporate citizens and again trying to divert attention from their role and their responsibility in over five million deaths around the world from tobacco.
AMY GOODMAN: Anna White, talk about the world and the marketing of cigarettes and how the U.S. relates to that, even with the international agreements like, well, CAFTA that was just passed.
ANNA WHITE: Right, well, the smoking rate is in a slow decline in the U.S., but it is rising quite exponentially abroad. So right now, the current death toll from tobacco worldwide is five million people. It’s going to rise — double to ten million by 2025, according to World Health Organization estimates> That’s equivalent of like 95 jet planes crashing each and every day. It’s hard to put these big numbers into perspective. The tobacco industry is quite aggressively marketing to young people around the world. We took a delegation of tobacco control delegates based here in the U.S. to West Africa last year and were completely appalled by the marketing that we saw. For example, we saw a cigarette brand called Houston, which uses, you know, the name of Houston, Texas, in the slogan “U.S.A. authentic,” to market to young people in Senegal, and they have actually painted their logo all over basketball courts throughout Dakar, Senegal, the capital there. We also saw Marlboro advertising all over the place, on cars, billboards. And one of the main themes you see in advertising abroad, tobacco advertising, is that smoking is part of the West and part of being American, and many people in low income countries are looking for a better life, and themes of freedom really speak to their desire for a better life. One of the things that has bothered me the most is how images of the U.S. are used to promote tobacco abroad, and specifically Marlboro, which is the number one cigarette brand in the world in terms of sales, marketed by Philip Morris. They promote a Marlboro Adventure Team to people around the world, and people can win a chance to go to Utah for a week and engage in, you know, different outdoor activities. Then, footage of their adventures are used in advertising around the world later.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Stan Glantz, what about the big five tobacco companies signing that major agreement with a state Attorney General in 1998? What effect did that have?
STAN GLANTZ: Well, the agreement that ended the state litigation against the tobacco industry has been a kind of a mixed bag. From my perspective, the most important thing it did was made it much easier to access tens of millions of pages of previously secret tobacco industry documents on the internet, and that’s actually something we’ve put a lot of energy into here at the University of California, San Francisco, and you can go to our website, which is legacy.library.ucsf.edu and read all kinds of internal correspondence from the industry and understand how they corrupt the political system, how they pressure journalists. I mean, the issue I mentioned earlier about the industry aggressively working to keep mention of smoking and tobacco out of the obituaries of people who have died. I mean, you can read their public relations strategy. You can read how they went in and corrupted Uzbekistan to overturn their public health legislation as part of the process Anna White was talking about. It also made a lot of money available to the States. But over the years the tobacco industry’s allies and state legislatures have whittled away the amount of money going to reducing smoking. We’ve learned, though, that if you get out there with an aggressive tobacco control program that’s adequately funded and takes on the industry and exposes the kind of behavior that we have been talking about, that you could very rapidly reduce cigarette consumption.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain? How do they put pressure not to talk about smoking when, for example, a celebrity dies?
STAN GLANTZ: Well, it’s pretty straightforward what happens. If you talk to reporters who cover tobacco, they know that if they do a tobacco story, there will be a letter that comes in from the chairman of the board of one of the big tobacco companies or a powerful executive to the chairman or the head of their media agency, which will then have to be answered, and that will then mean that people will have to spend time that they could spend reporting on other stories, writing responses, having bureaucratic negotiations inside of the media agency, and it just increases the cost of doing a story. Plus, the tobacco companies are wildly litigious. On one hand, they finance most of the so-called tort reforms to take people’s rights to sue away. But if you look at them crossed eyed, they’ll sue you, and so that means if you’re doing a story on tobacco and you mention them, it has to be double-checked by lawyers, you know, you have to be very triply careful about everything you say, and while reporters should be careful in what they say, it raises it to a sort of ridiculous level, and it means you do fewer stories. And so, there is a great bias in the media to simply not talk about the issue, and in earlier years when there was a lot more cigarette advertising in the media, there was just direct retaliation. If you mentioned tobacco, they just pulled a few, you know, some ads, and the publisher made less money. So they’re very bald about it. And the threats that you can see if you rummage through the documents, you occasionally find more overt threats, especially in the older documents, before the industry got so careful about what it said on paper. And so, they — you know, if you’re an editor or you’re a reporter, if you have a person like Peter Jennings or another celebrity who is very accomplished and you have limited space to talk about their death, you just leave the tobacco out, and that fits back into the kind of advertising that Anna White was talking about, because the industry wants tobacco to be presented very positively, as something associated with success, not with death.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr Stan Glantz, do you think it would be medically accurate to say the tobacco industry killed Peter Jennings, for that to be a headline?
STAN GLANTZ: Oh yeah, sure. Sure. I mean, they engineer cigarettes to maximize the addictive potential. They intervene very, very aggressively to prevent public health strategies from reducing tobacco use. Sure, there’s no — yeah, I think the tobacco industry helped kill Peter Jennings, and I think the politicians that do their bidding by refusing to fund aggressive tobacco control programs contributed to his death, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr Stan Glantz published The Cigarette Papers, Anna White is with Essential Action. Thank you both for being with us.