There’s no such thing as a free lunch from tobacco companies

Gary Fooks, Anna Gilmore

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


Almost all companies contribute money to charity and many would argue that corporate donations make a positive difference in the world. But this hopeful take on corporate philanthropy sits uneasily with the findings of a growing number of studies based on tobacco industry documents, which are publicly available from litigation in the US. These provide a compelling reminder of the principle that what is good for business isn’t necessarily good for everyone else.

Confidential internal emails, memos, and strategy documents give us an unmediated record of what corporate executives were really thinking when they made decisions. And they suggest tobacco industry largesse isn’t driven solely (or even primarily) by philanthropic impulses, but by misanthropy and the desire for political influence. The aim is to prevent evidence-based policies that limit tobacco use – still the number one cause of preventable death in the world.

A recent study, which we published in PLOS ONE, looked in depth at British American Tobacco (BAT), one of the big four multinational tobacco companies. Using documents from the digital archives of the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library (LTDL), we found that concerns in the 1990s over increasing efforts by national governments to introduce public smoking restrictions led to BAT making large, conspicuous donations to education institutions, health organisations and NGOs – all essentially aimed at increasing the company’s political footprint.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationThe Conversation
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2013


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