Tobacco official brags of influence Memo says he had U.S. relax curbs on smoking

December 17, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

*TC A Philip Morris tobacco company official boasted of usin influence with the White House and federal Office of Management and Budget to curb attacks on smoking by U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello, according to an internal company document.

The memo also expresses satisfaction that, despite his anti-smoking rhetoric, Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan had "always stopped at the water's edge when it comes to endorsing anti-smoking legislation . . . ."

The 1990 memo was written by James W. Dyer, then-director of Washington relations for Philip Morris, the top U.S. cigarette maker, and now a White House aide. It was leaked to an anti-smoking group known as Doctors Ought to Care, which made it available to the Los Angeles Times.

The memo says company lobbyists had not "directly urged that he [Sullivan] be muzzled" because "the media is sensitive to possible White House interference in his activities."

Dr. Novello declined comment, but a spokeswoman says that she had repeatedly spoken out on the dangers of tobacco. "I guess she didn't quite toe their line," the aide says.

Dr. Sullivan, in an interview yesterday, called the memo "incredible" and accused the company of arrogance for "trying to undercut or neutralize my efforts here." This is "totally unacceptable" because "the evidence is incontrovertible that tobacco use is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States," Dr. Sullivan says.

The memo was one of many Philip Morris documents from 1989 and 1990 that were anonymously provided to Doctors Ought to Care, says Alan Blum, the head of the group.

Barry Holt, Philip Morris vice president for corporate communications, says the memo appears to be part of the "day-to-day discussions that go on, in terms of people and issues surrounding Washington. I don't see anything unusual here."

Mr. Holt also says that he had no way to verify the authenticity of the documents, and one memo provided by the anti-smoking group is slightly different from a version found in company files.

However, anti-smoking activists say the memos support their view that tobacco industry pressure on the Bush administration has limited Dr. Sullivan's and Dr. Novello's freedom of action.

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