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PLoS Med. 2018 May 1;15(5):e1002562. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002562. eCollection 2018 May.

Public versus internal conceptions of addiction: An analysis of internal Philip Morris documents.

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Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America.
UCSF Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, San Francisco, California, United States of America.



Tobacco addiction is a complex, multicomponent phenomenon stemming from nicotine's pharmacology and the user's biology, psychology, sociology, and environment. After decades of public denial, the tobacco industry now agrees with public health authorities that nicotine is addictive. In 2000, Philip Morris became the first major tobacco company to admit nicotine's addictiveness. Evolving definitions of addiction have historically affected subsequent policymaking. This article examines how Philip Morris internally conceptualized addiction immediately before and after this announcement.


We analyzed previously secret, internal Philip Morris documents made available as a result of litigation against the tobacco industry. We compared these documents to public company statements and found that Philip Morris's move from public denial to public affirmation of nicotine's addictiveness coincided with pressure on the industry from poor public approval ratings, the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), the United States government's filing of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) suit, and the Institute of Medicine's (IoM's) endorsement of potentially reduced risk products. Philip Morris continued to research the causes of addiction through the 2000s in order to create successful potentially reduced exposure products (PREPs). While Philip Morris's public statements reinforce the idea that nicotine's pharmacology principally drives smoking addiction, company scientists framed addiction as the result of interconnected biological, social, psychological, and environmental determinants, with nicotine as but one component. Due to the fragmentary nature of the industry document database, we may have missed relevant information that could have affected our analysis.


Philip Morris's research suggests that tobacco industry activity influences addiction treatment outcomes. Beyond nicotine's pharmacology, the industry's continued aggressive advertising, lobbying, and litigation against effective tobacco control policies promotes various nonpharmacological determinants of addiction. To help tobacco users quit, policy makers should increase attention on the social and environmental dimensions of addiction alongside traditional cessation efforts.

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