Daily Doc: PM, May 1, 1972: The Roper Proposal

Daily Doc: The Roper Proposal

Title: The Roper Proposal
PM, May 1, 1972
Bates #: 2024274199/4202

May 3, 2000

This memo was written by the Tobacco Institute's Vice President of Public Relations, Fred Panzer, in 1972. Mr. Panzer is concocting a way to prolong the "cigarette controversy" and thus turn around the "deteriorating situation" in which the tobacco industry found itself. In Mr. Panzer's words, until this time the tobacco industry had been able to rely on its "brilliantly conceived and executed strategy" which was, specifically,
"...a holding strategy, consisting of--creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it,"
"...variations on the theme that, 'the case is not proved.' "
...But the jig was just about up on their "holding strategy" by 1972. (As Mr. Panzer puts it, "it is impossible to hold the public on a middle course for any length of time.") He thus saw two possible ways out of the situation: 1) concoct a way to blame the smoker for becoming ill (the tobacco industry's "constitutional hypothesis," which essentially blames smokers' illnesses on heredity and other nebulous screw-ups which Mr. Panzer termed their "patterns of life,") or 2) Find a way to blame other things for making smokers ill, like food additives, stress, air pollution, and occupational hazards.

The tobacco industry took polls which showed that idea #2 was the one that was most believable to most people. Thus, Mr. Panzer conceived of commissioning a "study" that would concur with, and promote this hypothesis. To give the study weight and credibility, it would be designed by "prestige figures" and "hopefully published by a legitimate house." It would then be delivered to the White House, Congress, the Cabinet, State Governors, the Senate, medical universities, etc. and then released in book form (both hard back and paper back). As a book, it would thus be easily promoted through all the legitimate avenues: talk shows, book reviews, interviews, ads, condensations in magazines, etc. Then, the key influentials and opinion leaders thus "educated," they would help buffalo millions of people into believing that indeed everything but smoking could be blamed for inducing smokers' illnesses.

*Voila'!* - Another controversy! And this time with more, (and longer-lasting) confusion!

Oh, and, as Mr. Panzer puts it,
"...best of all, [the proposed book] would only have to be seen -- not read -- to be believed...just like the Surgeon General's report."

Title: The Roper Proposal
Type of Document: Confidential memorandum
Author Fred Panzer, Tobacco Institute Asst. Vice President of Public Relations 1971-1980 To: Horace Kornegay, Tobacco Institute President and Executive Director 1970-1980
Date: 19720501
Site: Philip Morris document site http://www.pmdocs.com/
Page Count 4
Bates No. 2024274199/4202
URL: http://www.pmdocs.com/getallimg.asp?DOCID=2024274199/4202


It is my strong belief that we now have an opportunity to take the initiative in the cigarette controversy, and start to turn it around.

For nearly twenty years, this industry has employed a single strategy to defend itself on three major fronts -- litigation, politics and public opinion.

While the strategy was brilliantly conceived and executed over the years helping us win important battles, it is only fair to say that it is not -- nor was it intended to be -- a vehicle for victory. One the contrary, it has always been a holding strategy, consisting of

--creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it

-- advocating the pubic's right to smoke, without actually urging them to take up the practice

-- encouraging objective scientific research as the only way to resolve the question of health hazard.

On the litigation front for which the strategy was designed, it has been successful. While we have not lost a liability case, this is not because juries have rejected the anti-smoking arguments.

On the political front, the strategy has helped make possible an orderly retreat. But it is fair to say that it has not stemmed the pressure for new legislation, despite the major concessions we have made.

On the public opinion front, however, our situation has deteriorated and will continue to worsen. This erosion will have an adverse effect on the other fronts, because here is where the beliefs, attitudes and actions of judges, juries, elected officials and government employees are formed.

As an industry, therefore, we are committed to an ill-defined middle ground which is articulated by variations on the theme that, "the case is not proved." As the recent history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam demonstrated, it is impossible to hold the public on a middle course for any length of time. There seems to be no way that mass public opinion can engage in a controversy and choose an answer that goes beyond the range of either/or.

In the cigarette controversy, the public -- especially those who are present and potential supporter (e.g. tobacco state congressman and heavy smokers) -- must perceive, understand, and believe in evidence to sustain their opinions that smoking may not be the causal factor.

As things stand, we supply them with too little in the way of ready-made credible alternatives.


Two such credible alternatives exist:

1) The Constitutional Hypothesis i.e. people who smoke tend to differ importantly from people who do not, in their heredity, in constitutional makeup, in patterns of life, and in the pressure under which they live.

2. The Multi-Factorial Hypothesis - i.e. as science advances, more and more factors come under suspicion as contributing to the illnesses for which smoking is blamed -- air pollution, viruses, food additives, occupational hazards and stresses.

Our 1970 public opinion survey showed that a majority (51%) believed that cigarettes are only one of the many causes of smokers having more illnesses. It also showed that half of the people who believed that smokers have more illness than non-smokers accepted the constitutional hypothesis as the explanation.

Thus, there are millions of people who would be receptive to a new message, stating:

Cigarette smoking may not be the health hazard that the anti-smoking people say it is because other alternatives are at least probable.

The Roper proposal would be a persuasive (if not strictly scientific) medium for this message, which we have done little to develop in a systematic or comprehensive way.


1) Select a panel of experts to consult on the design of the study. Ideally they would be prestige figures...

2) Conduct the pilot study.
3) If favorable, present the results to carefully selected members of the following key groups: Senate, House, Cabinet, White House, State Governors, Medical School and University Presidents, Scientific bodies.

The purpose is two-fold (a) to gain the support and participation of friends and (b) to neutralize any adverse action they may be brewing...

4) Conduct the full scale survey.

5) If the results are favorable, release them as a book in both hard cover and paperback version, hopefully published by a legitimate house. In effect, such a volume would be a counter-Surgeon General's report.

6) As a book the material would be marketed and promoted in all the many ways available: magazine condensation, TV and radio talk shows, newspaper reviews and interviews, advertising, gift distribution, etc. etc.

And best of all, it would only have to be seen -- not read -- to be believed...just like the Surgeon General's report.

[All underlining appears in the original]

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Anne Landman, Regional Program Coordinator
American Lung Association of Colorado, West Region Office
Grand Junction, CO
(970) 245-2120
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