Smoke and Fumes: Closing the Oil/Tobacco Circle

July 20, 2016

But we already knew that fossil fuel’s deception was bottomless, right?

Video description:

Exxon and its allies have dismissed comparisons to Big Tobacco as baseless. Our research in more than 14 million documents of the Tobacco Industry Archives reveals compelling evidence that the relationship between these two industries is neither coincidental nor casual. Beyond a doubt, the oil companies have benefitted from the tobacco playbook in their fight against climate science.

But the question arises, where did the tobacco companies get their playbook in the first place?


The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) today launched, a website featuring internal industry documents dating back to the 1950s that reveal the nexus between the oil and tobacco industries’ shared campaigns to undermine science to delay accountability and political action to curtail their deadly products.

CIEL has uncovered new evidence showing that it was the work performed for the oil industry by PR firms (particularly Hill & Knowlton) that attracted the tobacco industry to follow suit — in contrast to the prevailing narrative that Big Oil deployed the Tobacco Playbook to ward off responsibility for climate change resulting from its fossil fuel pollution.

Again and again we found both the PR firms and the researchers worked first for oil, then for tobacco,” said CIEL President Carroll Muffett in a statement. “It was a pedigree the tobacco companies recognized and sought out.”

ExxonMobil’s excuse in the face of #ExxonKnew has, in part, relied on the defense that oil is not the new tobacco. At the end of the day, as Muffett points out in the video below, the final result is the same, despite who was first to devise the strategies of deception and attacking inconvenient science.

The infamous “Doubt is our product” tobacco memo articulated the strategy most succinctly, but the whole package of deception, delay, and attacks on science have been shared, refined and endlessly deployed by both industries (and many others) since the 1950s.

It reminds me of that old “I learned it by watching you” anti-drug PSA. You’re both still busted, tobacco and oil industries. It doesn’t matter who came first.

Watch the video for the whole story, and check out for the incredible cache of internal documents uncovered by the Center for International Environmental Law.



6 Responses to “Smoke and Fumes: Closing the Oil/Tobacco Circle”

  1. skeptictmac57 Says:

    “But the question arises, where did the tobacco companies get their playbook in the first place?”

    I would argue that the seeds of that playbook at least partially grew out of the work and theories of Edward Bernays (Sigmund Freud’s nephew) the promoter of propaganda and father of Public Relations.

    “One of the most famous campaigns of Bernays was the women’s cigarette smoking campaign in 1920s. Bernays helped the smoking industry overcome one of the biggest social taboos of the time: women smoking in public. Women were only allowed to smoke in designated areas, or not at all. Women caught violating this rule were arrested”

  2. Gingerbaker Says: – wow – good stuff!

  3. shaneburgel Says:

    Considering that the Tobacco playbook ultimately failed, why did they choose to follow it?

    • I think the answer is: successful delay. The Big Tobacco playbook failed, but it took a long time–and BT got to sell a lot of cigarettes and kill a lot of people in the meantime. They were making money, so who cares about killing some rubes? Likewise, those making money off of fossil fuels would rather see you, me, and all our children dead dead dead than give up a dime of profits. Paraphrasing what Peter said in one of his comments the other day, they probably just figure they’ll go live in a gated community on Hudson Bay if things warm up; the rest of us not so much.

      Good commentary here by one of the good guys:

  4. […] a bit more on this, check out Peter Sinclair’s post on the same subject, if you haven’t seen it […]

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