Matthew M. Swetonic

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Matthew M. Swetonic (commonly referred to as Matt) is a prominent public relations operator, who specializes in countering environmentalism and health activism, and in providing crisis management for large industry groups and corporations with poisoning or polluting problems.



1942 Oct Born in Brooklyn NY to Andrew and Margaret Pollock Swetonic.

He was raised in Pittsburgh, PA and attended the University of Pittsburgh, a member of the graduating class of 1964. Matt went on to obtain a Master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.

1964-65 Dr Irving Selikoff working at the Paterson Clinic in Patterson, NJ, noticed extraordinary high rates of mesothelioma among members of the Asbestos Worker's Union. On conducting some elementary document searched, he found hundreds of articles previously published on the health problems of asbestos worker throughout the war years (where asbestos lagging was commonly used on ships). He published several articles, conducted seminars, and was interviewed by the New York Times.

The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published a major piece by Selikoff in 1965

1965 June: Swetonic "joined the public relations staff of the Johns-Mansville Corporation" Co (J-M), then the world's largest asbestos manufacturer.

J-M had long been fighting a rear-guard action to protect its asbestos business and to deny the serious adverse health effects of the asbestos fibres. This company also led the fight against adequate compensation for workers and others effected by the fibres.

"My job was not very demanding. I was the number two man on the company's monthly employee magazine. Mostly I traveled around the country from J-M plant to J-M plant, taking pictures and interviewing plant personnel for stories on a new product line or plant addition."[1]

1966 June Dr Irving Selikoff founded and became the director of the "Environmental and Occupational Health Division" of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, the nation's first hospital division dedicated to the study of asbestos problems. It was later renamed the "Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine" in his honor after his death in 1992

1968 Swetonic was called into a meeting with his boss, Bill Raines and the vice-president for advertising and public relations,Jack Solon. At the conclusion of the meeting Swetonic had been promoted to the position of "co-ordinator of special projects." His initial task "was to learn all I could about the asbestos-health issue."

In this period Hill & Knowlton became the Public Relations company of choice for the asbestos industry. It handled the asbestos problem worldwide. Swetonic may have swapped over from J-M to H&K at any time through agreement struck between the two companies.

1986 to 1991 Swetonic was Senior Vice-President and director of Hill & Knowlton's Division of Scientific, Technical and Environmental Affairs where he "handled crisis communications for environmental health problems for clients in the chemical, mining, plastics, food and cosmetics industries." [1](H&K were the main PR company for the tobacco industry, among others).

1971 "He was named director of environmental affairs in 1971," a biographical note stated.[1]

1972[1] Swetonic set up for Johns-Manville a front organisation known as the Asbestos Information Association/North America, and ran it as the nominal Executive Secretary (he later claimed "Executive President").[2] While described as "a trade association dealing with health and environmental problems in the industry,"[1] the main purpose of this organisation was to counter, devalue or dismiss the growing scientific evidence implicating asbestos in serious disease conditions.[3]

1973 Aug Swetonic resigned from AIA in and "accepted a position at Hill & Knowlton. "Because of my background with OSHA, one of my first assignments was to work with the plastics industry, which had recently discovered that a basic chemical, vinyl chloride, used in the manufacture of PVC plastic resin caused a rare cancer of the liver called angiosarcoma."[1]

1976 According to his obit, he "1976, Matt married his Ruth Maguire in New York City. They spent most of their married life in Chappaqua, NY where they raised their sons Andrew and Nick."

1990 An Activity Report by corporate PR Carr J Smith at RJ Reynolds notes that at sometime during this year he participated with Matt Swetonic and Sam Simmons in an interview session with the Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) on "ETS issues" [2]

1990 /E A later (1999) defensive document on Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Cardiovascular Disease written by Carr J Smith and Melissa A Mullens of RJ Reynolds R&D lists some previous communications with Swetonic over the wife of an asbestos worker at J-M contracting mesothelioma through washing her husband's clothes.This shows clearly that he was fully aware of third-part risks from small doses of asbestos as well, as those of primary workers. [3]

1991 Swetonic joined the E. Bruce Harrison Company (EBH), which was then the most experienced PR company specializing in countering the environmental movement. EBH had been contracted for decades by the Chemical Manufacturers Association to protect their pesticide interests following the publication of Rachel Carson's book 'Silent Spring' in 1962, which is credited with having triggered the modern environmental movement.

In the early 1990s EBH was swallowed up in a series of mergers and, not long after, Swetonic left to become a partner in the New York office of The Dilenschneider Group's, which had split off from Hill & Knowlton (H&K). This was at a time when most of the larger PR, advertising and polling companies were involved in mergers, leverage-buy-outs (LBOs), and take-overs, combining eventually into the current three global media conglomerates - WPP, Omnicom, and Interpublic Group. These three global conglomerates now dominate the misinformation business. See PR Conglomeration


DATES REQUIRED In addition to his asbestos and tobacco experience, Matt Swetonic was also employed on the Agent Orange and dioxin controversy by sections of the chemical industry (through H&K) for many years. He also spent many years working for the tobacco Industry -- specifically for [RJ Reynolds Tobacco] -- both on countering the movement to ban public smoking, and on the promotion of their 'Premier brand' nicotine delivery system. Later, with the Dilenschneider Group, he also worked for Philip Morris.

1995 Jun 13 Peggy Carter at RJ Reynolds is writing to the top misinformation team in the company, Tom Griscom, Chuck Blixt and Dan Donahue about her observations at a recent Manhattan Institute seminar on "Junk Science and the Law".

Walter Olson and Peter Huber at the Manhattan Institute were both in the pay of Philip Morris and promoting their junk-science propaganda.

She comments on some in attendance:

  • Michael Fumento: Mike authored the Investor's Business Daily piece on the EPA's ETS risk assessment that we've been sending out for some time. He told me that piece generated more reaction than anything he's ever done. He's clearly keeping his distance from the industry to preserve his neutral position. Matt Swetonic advises on the QT that work is in progress to nationally syndicate Mike as a science columnist.
  • Steve Milloy: Milloy included in his remarks a recap of the problems with the EPA's ETS risk assessment, and told me privately that we're really getting "screwed" on this issue. He asked me if I knew CRS was working on an evaluation of the EPA's assessment; seems he and Steve Redhead (the CRS official who contacted us) are good friends. He characterized Redhead as an "anti." Dr. Redhead told Milloy last week that their report was going to require "significant rewrite."
    In response to my question about why, he indicated Redhead felt the only issue was in homes with high exposures over long periods of time. He clearly did not want to be more precise, and apparently felt that was clue enough. Perhaps Chris Coggins can tea-leaf read if - that means CRS was convinced to reevaluate their position on high exposures.
C. Stephen Redhead was a physiologist who worked for the Congressional Research Center who became embroiled in controversy over the Gravelle CRS report which attacked the EPA's anti-tobacco stance (she was actually an Economics Policy analyst). [5] Redhead had already, reported on Mortality and Economic Costs Attributable to Smoking and Alcohol Abuse in April 1993. [6]

1996 Mar 14 Matt Swetonic of the EBH PR company is memoing Tom Borelli at Philip Morris (with a CC to Jim Wieghart).
Subject: Tobacco Industry Funded Research in Medical Journals.

He is recommending Rick Weiss who has written for the Washington Post as a "reporter who we may be able to interest in doing a major piece on medical journals that refuse to publish research funded by the tobacco industry." He also suggests Marcia Angell as a possibility.

"In a Frontline show in late February on breast implants, Marcia Angell of the New England Journal of Medicine dismissed as nonsense the notion that industry funding taints medical research. She pointed out that half of all medical research is funded by industry, and to disregared it "would decimate the science in this country." We know from an editorial she wrote a few years ago that she is also skeptical of the research linking ETS to disease."


1996 May 21 Matt Swetonic has written to a researcher he knows, Debbie Stone at ABC-TV, saying he knows that John Stossel is producing a "Junk-science" Special. He suggest that they do a segment on Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) and he has sent her a 6-page "Overview". He doesn't say who he is working for. [8]

1996 Sep 13 Maura Ellis at RJ Reynolds has sent a note to Tom Griscom and other lobbying associates at the company. She has been talking on the phone to Matt Swetonic and trying to discover the "combination for the locked cabinets" (Why would he know?)

He (Swetonic) said he is doing some work for Philip Morris, and in the course of that learned that John Stossel has a "junk science" special upcoming some time in October. A brief portion -- maybe 4-5 minutes, he guesses, will be about ETS. He knows Michael Fumento was interviewed for it. [9]

2016 Apr 18 Matthew M. Swetonic, 73, most recently of Somers NY, passed away on Monday, April 18th 2016. Memorial contributions should be made in Matt's name to The American Cancer Society .

Asbestos Background
During the years of World War II, and for nearly two decades after, asbestos was widely promoted as a "wonder material" because it could be woven or incorporated (as reinforcing) into other composite materials; it was inflammable and resistant to most chemicals. The first scientist to begin a crusade against asbestos was Dr. Irving J. Selikoff at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. This occurred at about the time that research into the health effects of smoking was also implicating cigarettes in lung cancer.

World War II had massively boosted the mining and use of asbestos, and military service had also triggered a smoking epidemic. Asbestos- and tobacco-induced lung-cancer (and heart diseases) had relatively long incubation periods, but they began to make their presence known about twenty-years after the war exposure.

In 1960 Selikoff was warning workers in the asbestos industry (and those previously exposed) not to smoke because of the extremely high rate of lung cancers that each product produced. He was mainly concerned with the millions of US shipyard workers who had installed asbestos lagging, and with naval gunners who were showered with the fibres when their guns fired.

Selikoff temporarily set the tobacco industry and the asbestos companies at loggerheads with each other with each industry began trying to lay the blame on the other for the cancer epidemic.

Also, in a study for the US Labor Department, Selikoff's associate Dr. William J. Nicholson estimated that between 1940 and 1979, 18.8 million US workers had been significantly exposed to asbestos in their work. Nicholson concluded that this history of exposure would yield 432,000 excess cancer deaths in the following sixty years [10] since the major killer diseases associated with asbestos (asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung-cancer) had incubation periods of up to 40 years.

Then in 1968 at the height of the initial cigarette-cancer scare, Selikoff wrote an article in a medical magazine pointing out that smoking asbestos workers had "92 times the risk" of dying from lung cancer as those nonsmoking, non-asbestos workers. By discovering the extraordinary synergistic relationships between tobacco and asbestos, Selikoff now became a primary threat to both industries -- and the PR attack-dogs were turned out to discredit him.

He had also published a study implicating the IntraUterine Device (IUD) for contraception in health problems, which gave the tobacco industry an automatic ally.

1972 Johns Manville had refused to help the medical investigators from Mt Sinai, and in 1972 it both funded and organised the Asbestos Information Association to counter the growing scientific evidence, and attack the associated environmental and health activism.[11] This organization was directed by executives at Johns-Manville but run by Swetonic from Hill & Knowlton. So by 1972 [Hill & Knowlton] was working for both industries - asbestos and tobacco.

Matt Swetonic ran the asbestos industry projects (he acted both as spokesman and industry advisor) [12] while a number of other H&K operators (including Leonard Zahn (a scientific lobbyist and science-writer) worked through the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (later the Council for Tobacco Research). Both of these organizations occupied office space in the Empire State Building in New York on a floor directly below H&K's offices, and they shared H&K staff.

Through H&K's intervention, eventually there was a formal coming together of the asbestos and tobacco interests with an agreement to cooperate, rather than apportion blame. This was at the time when Congress was considering asbestos compensation legislation: DDT had just been banned,the tobacco industry was also under legislative threat to its broadcast advertising ... and there were new requirements to include health warnings on packets.

In this letter from Leonard Zahn to John Mansville's Vice President, FJ Solon (ccd to Matt Swetonic) Zahn comments on a scientific report by Selikoff which could generate trouble on both the tobacco and asbestos fronts [13]. This document came from the tobacco industry files (they were automatically copied on asbestos issues by H&K).

Not long after after, Solon made a public statement characterising Dr Selikoff as a "cruel showman", saying: "To terrorize people who worked in shipyards 30 years ago, and now can't do a God-damned thing about it - that's something I couldn't square with my conscicnce." [14]

The Tobacco Years

In the mid-1980s, the Business Roundtable organised an even wider coalition which included asbestos and tobacco, together with members of the Chemical Manufacturers Association and various energy trade associations. They wanted a joint effort with special projects to counter the growing environmental and health activism.

In particular, they decided to cooperated in legal and legislative actions to restrict penalties for successful product liability and worker's compensation suites. Their sworn enemies were the 'plaintiff lawyers' who had combined in an association known as the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA) -- and so they formed the [American Tort Reform Association] (ATRA).

In 1983 the Business Roundtable also had its Task Force on Product Liability headed by Robert Malott, the CEO and Chairman of pesticide/chemical manufacturer FMC Corp. The US Chambers of Commerce had created a similar new organization known as the National Business Council on Injury Compensation, to develop a unified business position on toxic substances compensation issues. Asbestos was obviously one of their top priorities, but they were also trying to counter attacks over dioxins, DDT, Agent Orange, tobacco and a range of other harmful products.

At Hill & Knowlton, Matt Swetonic also worked for Dow Chemicals and helped coordinate the herbicide/pesticide subsection of the Chemical Manufacturers Association [15].

RJ Reynolds Tobacco

At the same time Swetonic was elevated to the position of Senior Vice President of H&K, acting primarily as a media strategist and training advisor to RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company on its litigation problems [16]. His working title (for use in the media) was "Health and Environment Advisor" and he helped Reynolds set up media advisory centers to counter adverse publicity in some of the early legal liability cases in different parts of the country. [17]

One of his assigned tasks was to "review the current medical literature on [ETS] ([Environmental Tobacco Smoke -- passive smoking]) ... to determine if there is a possibility of generating a national debate on the validity of the health claims being made against ETS." [18]. The main aim here was to counter smoking restrictions in the workplace and in public venues like restaurants, by generating doubt about the validity of the science.

He also assisted RJ Reynolds in the marketing and promotion of the ill-fated Premier smokeless cigarette (actually a nicotine delivery device). In the tobacco archives, the development of Premier is known (successively) as Project SPA and Project Q. [19] and later (with a 1988 re-launch) as Project Y and Alpha. He was to organize tame scientist and science journalists to write favorable reviews and editorials on Premier, characterising it as a 'safe cigarette' (since the company was prohibited from making this claim in public itself). He ghost-wrote articles himself to be planted on major newspapers as op-ed pieces under other names. [20] [21].

Swetonic was also called upon to defend RJ Reynolds in a claim make in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that the Premier cigarette could be used to smoke crack! [22] His defense plan included the suggestion that they "identify individuals or groups who are in opposition to the AMA" and "create a coalition" to attack the medical profession's organisation. [23]. [24]

When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to investigate the health and environmental problem associated with passive smoking (ETS), he created a public-persuasion project focussed on the slogan "Back-door Prohibition" [25]. The idea was to claim that the EPA was trying to expand its empire and seize control of indoor air regulation standards using "perverted science". He successfully predicted that the EPA would eventually classify environmental smoke as a Class A Carcinogen [26].

Reynold's Premier cigarette was essentially a tube with heated taste beads and nicotine, and it was, in fact a catastrophe. [27]. By the mid 1980s the major media were well-conversant with smoking-and-health issues, but Swetonic worked very hard to persuade major media organisations (like the Reader's Digest) that this was, in fact, a 'safer cigarette' ... without actually making the claim himself. [28].

In government regulatory affairs the sale of cigarettes held a special privileged position through the strength of the tobacco farming lobby. The tobacco-growing states usually held the balance of power in the Senate and House, and their lobbying stopped tobacco from being considered an addictive drug -- it was excused from food and drug regulation on the grounds that it was an 'agricultural product'. However, the Premier tube-delivery system opened the industry to regulation by the Food and Drug Administration; clearly this was a 'drug delivery system' more akin to a hypodermic needle than an apple or chocolate stick. [29] Reynolds quickly abandoned Premier when the FDA began to make their 'drug' argument to Congress.

E. Bruce Harrison

In 1991 he was also working on coalition problem with the chemical manufacturers and their trade associations. The growth of workplace smoking bans in chemical companies raised tensions between the coalition partners.[30], which is probably why he was shifted from the main H&K office to E. Bruce Harrison Co (EBH). In the late 1980s and early 1990s EBH had been successively taken over by the Pinnacle Group, and then by Ruder Finn, and these companies had close and cosy ties with Hill & Knowlton (which itself had been taken over a couple of times).

Swetonic retained the RJ Reynolds Tobacco account, and was officially entitled "Senior Vice President and Director of Environmental Operations" [31]. He now began running operations on behalf of the tobacco industry as a whole, while remaining under RJ Reynolds control.

Du Pont, one of the major makers of herbicides and pesticides, has implemented a smoking ban in its own workplaces, and Swetonic used his contacts with the chemical industry to try to have this smoking ban reversed [32]. He raises the possibility of having tobacco farmers boycott Du Pont's agricultural products, and since Du Pont also owned the Remington Arms Company, he suggests the possibility to RJR of requesting the National Rifle Association (NRA -- the most powerful special-interest lobby in the country) put pressure on the chemical company also. The NRA and the tobacco industry worked closely together on problems of product liability, and they were both highly active in their support for the Republican Party's policies of unregulated free-enterprise and small government.

In the following years Swetonic continued working with the tobacco industry, persuading tame scientists like Prof. Alvan Feinstein of Yale to write articles dismissing the regulatory science on passive smoking problems, and generaly supporting the tobacco industry's position [33]. He also continued his campaign against the American Medical Association (AMA) [34].

Total Indoor Environment Quality (TIEQ)

At EBH in mid-1991, Swetonic was instrumental in creating a front association known as the Total Indoor Environment Quality association (TIEQ). This was nominally a coalition under the National Environmental Development Association (NEDA). NEDA was itself created by EBH in 1973 with the intention of running business leadership seminars on health and environmental problems -- specifically with workplace Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). This was at the time when the tobacco industry was promoting the idea of the "Sick Building Syndrome" as an alternative to tobacco smoke as the cause of health and general well-being problems in offices and factories.

The TIEQ was a nation-wide front operation, nominally based in Washington (actually in New York), which was proclaimed as an "organization of environmental experts and concerned companies committed to finding solutions to the challenges associated with indoor air quality (IAQ)." [35]. The chairman of the "scientific advisory board", Dr Ronald E. Gots (the medical advisor to the National Association of Manufacturers and insurance companies and a critic of Selikoff's zealotry), said that the TIEQ's chief mission is to "try to ensure that good science drives whatever policies are developed to regulate indoor air, that we have good science information as much as possible before we decide about controlling things." [36]

The press release announcing the TIEQ's founding, claims that "the correlation between poor indoor environmental quality and adverse health effects hasn't been proven". These words come straight out of the tobacco industry's favourite phrase book.

RJ Reynolds appears to have provided the funds to establish the TIEQ, but the day-to-day operation were only part-funded by the tobacco industry in general [37] with Philip Morris joining the board later [38]. The coalition supporting the TIEQ also included fibre makers, synthetic carpet manufacturers, office-equipment manufacturers, and airlines -- all of which had indoor air quality problems. [39]. The Manville Corporation (the successor to [Johns-Manville]) was also a charter member [40].

The tobacco industry took the lead position, but preferred to hide behind coalitions in these "toxic tort" matters, and the actual TIEQ offices were in the same building as E Bruce Harrison Co. Matt Swetonic is listed by them as "TIEQ Staff".

The TIEQ was still operating as a lobby force on downplaying the adverse effects of poor indoor air quality in August 1999 [41]. It appears to have been listed as a tobacco ally by Philip Morris in Dec 1997 [42] and it is included in RJ Reynold's official Lobbying Report in 2000 - both well after the signing of the Master Settlement Agreement.

Tort Reform and Toxic Torts

    • "Torts" are civil liability claims, and "reform" was a euphemism for restricting the public liability (ie "toxic tort" problems) through various means. The support came from companies with poisoning and polluting problems. "Toxic torts" are product liability claims for noxious substances.

In this area, Swetonic also associated himself with the Manhattan Institute (specifically with Peter Huber and Walter Olson), a think-tank which was funded by the same industries that funded TIEQ. The role of Huber and Olson were to circulate dubious and highly-exaggerated product-liability stories (e.g. A woman got $3 m for spilling hot coffee, etc.) [43]. They did this through books, newspaper and magazine articles, radio and TV, and Olson also ran the website which was modelled on Milloy's operation [44].

The manufacture of these legal-urban legends; the exaggeration of claims about plaintiff lawyer greed; and the exaggerated claims of product liability costs were all part of a well-designed coalition strategy designed to support "tort reform" [45]. The sensationalist nature of the stories appealed to the press.

The "tort reform" promoters established a fake legal-services grassroots organization called the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), which had a number of associated CALA branches (Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse) in various states, well funded by tobacco and other industries. The purpose was to:

  • limit damages (especially punitive damages),
  • attack "plaintiff attorneys",
  • restrict the expert evidence available in the courts, and
  • block most class actions [46].

Junk-man Steve Milloy of TASSC (controlled through APCO) who ran one of the main science lobby group for the tobacco industry, was also a close associate in the tort reform movement. APCO actually run ATRA and the various CALAs under contract, and Milloy also ran the Junk Science web site:

Swetonic also utilized the services of Michael Fumento of Investors Business Daily (a pro-industry health-journalist, available for hire) who's column he arranged to have syndicated around the country. This group of lobbyists all had close associations with the ABC TV journalist John Stossel who pushed the "junk science" angle.[47] [48]

By this time Swetonic had joined the Dilenschneider Group and was on a temporary retainer from Tom Borelli at Philip Morris (who later became Steve Milloy's partner) [[49]].

The Dilenschneider Group

Switonic became a partner in the Dilenschneider Group in 1996. Bob Dilenschneider had been his superior at Hill & Knowlton in the early days, and had left to set up his own operation. [50]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Matthew M. Swetonic, "Death of the Asbestos Industry", in Jack A. Gottschalk, Crisis Response - Inside Stories on Managing Image Under Siege, Gale Research, Detroit, 1993.
  2. Matthew M. Swetonic, "Taming the Asbestos Monster", Heartland Perspectives, November 5, 2002.
  3. "Profile of the AIA/NA", undated but in late 1972, Bates Number THKP 0004990.

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