Operation Downunder

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Operation Downunder was a major internal effort by the Philip Morris (PM USA) domestic tobacco company to define a comprehensive strategy to combat the effects of public information that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS, or secondhand smoke) is harmful to non-smokers. It was the first attempt by Phillip Morris to engage large numbers of PR and scientific disinformation staff (and some lawyers and contractors) in comprehensive planning via brainstorming sessions. This later became an annual process under Geoff Bible at conferences held at Boca Raton.

Downunder was run under the auspices of the Australian Vice Chairman Bill Murray (hence the name), but with (British Chairman) Hamish Maxwell and (American President) Frank Resnik also closely involved. Guy L Smith, the VP of Corporate Affairs/Public Relations at PM USA was nominally the organiser with his assistant John A Kochevar. [1] At that time Andrew Whist and his Corporate Affairs staff from Philip Morris International were busy organising the McGill University ETS Symposium (200 participants from around the world) and running the Whitecoats program (IAPAG, ARIA, EGIL, etc) in Europe and Asia. However they all later played a part in the on-going schemes.

Philip Morris Action Plans (Index)
Operation Downunder
Boca Raton Action Plan

The Undercurrents

  • This was a transition period for the tobacco industry: before 1987 they were mainly concerned with denying that cigarette smoking caused lung-cancer and heart disease in smokers. Their defense was to make it a human-rights issue: "smokers had the right to make a choice -- either to smoke or not smoke". This was the American way. Secondhand smoke (ETS) was seen as a minor irritant only. However from this period on, passive smoking (ETS = Environmental Tobacco Smoke) became the major health issue because it couldn't be argued that non-smokers 'chose' to breathe polluted air.
  • There appears to be a factional battle within Philip Morris between the British-Australian group led by Hamish Maxwell and the old guard executives of the domestic company, PM USA (Resnick, Newman, et al). The PMUSA domestic company had previously run the industry, but now the group of brash Australians was now in control of Philip Morris International -- and based in New York, under, Bill Murray, Geoff Bible, William Webb and Andrew Whist). The name "DownUnder" makes the point that Murray and Philip Morris International were taking control of the global industry fight-back program themselves. They aimed to give the industry fight-back some vigour and direction -- despite the sensibilities of the old-guard at the domestic US company. Their American friends and associates at the Tobacco Institute were being bypassed.

Initial Downunder Conference

Operation Downunder was an long-running program which involved many meetings and conferences, but it began with a meeting of mid-level PM executives held at the Sea Pines resort at Hilton Head, North Carolina June 24-26 in June, 1987. The objectives were spelled out:

The purpose of our upcoming session on the environmental tobacco smoke problem facing the industry, our company, and our customers is quite single-minded: find a solution.

Finding a solution, while difficult, is not an impossibility.Our directive is to come away from Sea Pines with a reasonable, responsible, and rational approach to solving the problem.
In order to facilitate the problem-solving process a great deal of thought and planning has gone into the "Operation Downunder" meeting. Bill Murray was quite correct when he said it was not possible to overemphasize the importance of this undertaking. I am delighted that you can join us. We have retained Robert Cornet, Ph.D., formerly vice president of the National Broadcasting Company and also formerly of Philip Morris Incorporated, to act as the meeting facilitator.

First, we will hear from William Small, former president of NBC News, CBS News, and of United Press International. Mr. Small will explain, in very clear and direct terms, why we have such an absence of credibility with the media and why we get such shoddy treatment from the media. http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/auk85e00/pdf

A 33-page internal PM document titled "Operation Downunder Conference Notes" recorded discussions held at the conference. [1] References in the document allude strongly to PM's awareness that ETS is not safe [Note: ETS = Environmental Tobacco Smoke or 'passive smoking']. They'd also come to accept that the mainstream scientific community wouldn't support them in their view that ETS was not harmful, and that they couldn't win on this issue just by using logic.

Some examples of the recorded discussions include the following quotes:

"ETS [issue is] not solvable with deductive reasoning...
Come up with something company can get behind with $...
We cannot say ETS is 'safe' and if we do, this is a "dangerous" statement...
[We're] not going to get sympathy on our science by general scientific community...
If smokers get message that their smoke kills others, is this not something major?"
"We've got to get to people on the street, but we are constrained because we can't say it's safe."

The document also contains a number of references concluding that the secondhand smoke issue will decrease PM's cigarette sales and its profits:

"In US, ETS issue will have devastating effect on sales. eg., parties, planes, etc."
"1. Problem -- [secondhand smoke issue] threatens the number of smokers & number of cigarettes they smoke."

Another passage says:

"Can you alter perception without touching on ETS?
Yes. CHILL the rhetoric and bad science by SUING THEM."

The Possible course of action which should be taken to address the ETS issue was recorded in a 116-item brainstormed, numbered "ideas list" with various staff allocated to develop these into practical tactics. Ideas on the list include:

33. Create science journal. (they tried to buy Omni)
34. Create non-science journal.
49. Acquire major media vehicle. (the bought the Saturday Review and thought about buying Omni magazine.
50. Develop own radio programming.
62. Undermine [U.S. Surgeon General] Koop et al
66. Challenge tax exempt status of anti groups.
77. Help select next SG [Surgeon General].
81. Organize "spontaneous" protests on our issues.
92. Repeal smoking restrictions in target states.
105. Attack anti groups where they hurt.
108. Acquire an insurance company.

But despite having 116 listed items seen worthy of further action, Phillip Morris executives still admited: "We don't have anything to slam them with on health issue."

Operation Downunder ultimately gave rise to a number of subsidiary projects, including the purchase of the Saturday Review magazine. They also began to focus on PM's "Accommodation Program," a strategy of broadening the secondhand smoke issue into one which promoted "courtesy between smokers and non-smokers" as a social ideal. Other ideas concentrated efforts on all virtually every source of indoor air pollution other than tobacco (formaldehyde, Legionella) -- and promoted increased air-exchange rates in offices and public buildings as the most reasonable answer to the problems that non-smokers faced in enclosed spaces.

Operation Downunder also initiated efforts by PM to counter the public acceptance of secondhand smoke as a health risk. One PM Downunder strategy was to "use the legislative process to compel Accommodation." Another was to "isolate anti-smoking forces." [2]

Documents & Timeline

1987 June 17 Public Relations head Guy Smith sets our the conference objectives to the Participants.[2]

1987 June 14 List of guest speakers at conference:

  • William Small, ex president of NCB News, CBS News and UPI
  • Prof. James Kuhn, Div. of Corporate Relations and Public Affairs, Columbia Uni, Graduate School of Business.[3]

List of those attending the discussion sessions of Operation Downunder (Both PM International and PM USA (domestic))

  • (PLUS other unidentified staff from PMI Corporate Affairs and the Board group)

1987 Jun 14 Guy Smith (VP Corporate Affairs) to John Kochevar, Director of Public Affairs (and Guy's assistant). He is being formally congratulated on his planning and promotion of the conference (mainly 'for the record')

It is a great pleasure to inform you that Vice Chairman Murray, after consulting with Chairman Maxwell and President Resnik, asked that the recommendations of the Operation Downunder group proceed immediately.

The thoroughness of your considerations and the conscientiousness you applied to the undertaking were not lost on the Vice Chairman. You are to be commended for your significant contribution in the examination and planning process. As we move into the executional elements of Operation Downunder, selected working groups will be established to make certain that the project advances according to the plan. Mr. Murray has asked that I once again call on you to aid in this vital undertaking. In the very near future I will be forwarding additional


[Maxwell, Murray and Resnik were ccd] [6]

1987 June 23-26The Downunder conference was held at The Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island

1987 Jun 26 Summary Report to management

The "case" (central messages: Science has not established any ETS risk; it can be annoying only. Non-smokers should accept smokers as fundamental right of Americans to freedom of choice; So no government intervention is required. The "BIG CHILL" strategy (outlined below) is the unifying strategy:
  [Note that the term 'Big chill' was used here in a different way to its later use -- when it came to mean political defeats of intransigent Congressmen and Senators]
They then came up with workable ideas:

  • Accommodation program (rough outline only) Mainly promoting separation of smokers and non-smokers.
  • Be reasonable and friendly to Public Officials and Policy Making friends. Turn the heat up on Opponents
  • Give away 'no-smoking in elevators' to politicians as a 'costless compromise.'
  • Monster theory - raise awareness of AIDS, Legionella, etc so ETS becomes seen as trivial.
  • Make it Hurt - the NRA's Big Chill strategy - throw industry weight behind the defeat of candidates for election, then discreetly let other politicians know we have done this.
  • Increase support to political friends
  • Expose Nonsense Laws
  • Media - editorial tours, spokesperson, challenge 'bad science' etc. etc.
- Consider acquiring Saturday Review or Insight, or a wire-service,
  • Scientific Community
- Fund $5 million of grants via Council for Indoor Air Research (CIAR)
- Increase number of scientific consultants (Whitecoats) from 15 to 50 in USA, and also similarly throughout the world
- Establish a new technical journal in indoor air research ($100,000)
- acquire popular science journal like Omni or Popular Science.
- Endow chairs at major universities + create separate university center on indoor air (not CIAR)
- symposium/conference/training projects for science writers.
  • Family and Allies (customers, leaf community, distributors and vendors)
- also potential allies with similar issues: nuclear energy, hazardous wastes, autos, liquor, coal and oil, chemical industry
- Elizabeth Whelan (American Council on Science & Health) is given as an example of the spokesperson type needed (eg chemical industry)
- Messages: "slippery slope"; "who is next?" .. Salt, meat, fast foods, dairy, liquor, irradiated foods, (make use of food subsidiaries)
- Establish entrepreneurial consulting services to give advice on workplace ETS problems

[7] [8]

1987 June 24 C&B lawyer, John Rupp summed up the industry situation succinctly: "Where we are - in deep shit." He went on to say the industry had a serious credibility problem on ETS, that it had been "fixed on by the do-gooders". Mr Rupp says the industry's position must be to show ETS is not a health hazard to the non-smoker. Outside the US, he notes, "scientists on our side pretty good, we need more. "Studies now funded: None a silver bullet. Somebody has to say ETS is no risk ... the bullets against us are lousy, but we don't have better bullets." Another participant chimed in: "ETS not solvable with deductive reasoning, sum up with something company can get behind with $... ETS is focus because it's driving public policy. It is the LINK between smokers and non-smokers."

1987 Sep 30 RJ Reynolds Tobacco had now been enlisted to support Project Downunder. It was being extended globally. See Helmut Gaisch's monthly report (FTR) to Philip Morris with references to Operation Downunder. Whist and two others had flown to Europe to brief them:

Meeting with Drs Charles Green (RJR Winston Salem) and Oskar Stuhl (RJR Cologne) and Dr Tom Osdene (PM) on coordinating the scientific part of Project Downunder on a world wide basis. [9]

1987 Oct 8 Helmut Caisch in FTR Switzerland records

  • the importance of the assistance of American lawyer, John Rupp. They need his assistance to meet the target figure for the recruitment of Whitecoats set by Bill Murray.
  • Gaisch is also involved in the scientific coordination of "Project Downunder".
  • He is working with Andrew Whist and Don Hoel of SH&B to arrange a symposium on ETS in Belgium
  • He wants PMI lawyer Lee Pollak to sort out the priorities.[10]

1987 Nov 23 A confidential memo from Peter Sparber to Sam Chilcote of the Tobacco Institute presents his analysis of Philip Morris's "DownUnder Project"

The Philip Morris proposal is vague in many respects. Therefore, our interpretation of their four strategies is based on the written proposal provided by Frank Resnik, Guy Smith's presentation at the last executive committee meeting, and on conversations with Guy at that meeting and later. Overall, we agree conceptually with three of the four strategies but have specific concerns with all but one.

He then outlines the "Accommodation section" of the Downunder brainstorming sessions.

Their analysis suggests we have lost the public debate on the health effects of ETS. Therefore, they propose the industry should:

  1. Redefine the public issue as one of "annoyance."
  2. Assist organizations considering smoking restrictions.
  3. Seek legislation to compel the equal accommodation of smokers.
  4. Confine further debate of ETS science to the scientific community.

The document then suggests tactics, some of which now exist, others which would be new.

Sparber and Stuntz then outline their objections.

Strategy I: Redefine the public issue as one of annoyance.
      Awareness of the "annoyance" issue can be increased but that does not necessarily mean that public awareness of the health issue will be decreased. Are we likely to end up with both issues visible?

  • For the past two years, The Institute has worked to redefine the ETS issue to one of ventilation and indoor air quality. We are now seeing the results of this work.
  • It also may be possible to draw public attention to the anti-smokers' least defensible position: job discrimination against smokers. We see little public support of efforts to refuse employment to smokers.
  • "Annoyance" as an issue requires more examination.

Strategy II: The industry should assist organizations seeking help with separate sections.
      Given the fact that most organizations restrict smoking in some way (e.g. elevators, manufacturing lines, sales counters, hazardous materials, etc.) it is difficult to determine how many organizations voluntarily discriminate against smokers in unreasonable ways.

  • The true, voluntary restriction of smoking is not as broad or as restrictive as is generally believed.
  • Managers often see smoking restrictions as divisive and as a relatively unimportant use of time. They seem relieved when the issue is "off the table" and annoyed when it is brought back. From our experience, companies that reconsider restrictions tend to toughen them.

Strategy III: The industry should support: legislation to compel equal accommodation of smokers.
      We do not concur. This position goes much farther than we need to go at this time. It would give our adversaries what they have been unable to achieve for themselves. In general, compromises of the sort proposed by Philip Morris are counterproductive. <

  • We restate support of the policy that our lobbyists, working through third parties, should have the flexibility to propose alternatives when opposition is futile.
  • The most effective alternative has been the "policy bill" approach.
  • "Ventilation and indoor air quality standards," promoted by organized labor, may be an alternative in some locations.
  • Labor may also promote legislation to forbid job discrimination against smokers. Language could be introduced as an amendment to a "separate sections" bill or could stand on its own.

Strategy IV: The ETS health issue should be confined to the scientific commnity
      The battle for public support was lost some time ago. Two years before the 1986 Surgeon General's and National Academy of Sciences' reports, 68 percent of all adults including a majority of smokers and 80 percent of non-smokers already believed ETS to be "probably harmful."

Scientific scrutiny works against the anti-smokers. Simplistic public debates of scientific issues works against us.

  • The Center for Indoor Air Research [CIAR] should represent the industry in this debate in scientific fora.
  • Industry spokesmen should not initiate public debate on this issue or respond to anti-smoker rhetoric on ETS unless absolutely necessary.

This document also includes an outline of the Downunder conclusions:

  • Strategies - (12 of them) and Tactics
  • Legislation; Lobbying, ; Ventilation legislation, Smoker's Rights legislation.
  • Science; CIAR operations, Scientific Witness Team & Indoor Air Pollution Advisory Group (IAPAG).
  • Litigation; Aggressive legal defense of smokers rights ; Legal briefings (bar associations, etc.)
  • Public Relations; Workplace restrictions: Corporate assistance; Workplace restrictions : individuals; Promote need for ventilation;
- ETS and IAQ briefings (legislators, journalists); Extreme reactions to common annoyance [promote this idea]; Smoker's Rights groups; Smokers as customers
- Social Cost ; Use economists to attack public cost arguments (Cash-for-comments Economists network) [11]

1988 /E Downunder Operational Plan. Among many points it notes:

  • Situation: trends towards bans. Anti-smokers have captured the issue. Popular support [for their position]
  • Awareness of ETS: ETS is now at the top of the list of causes of indoor air polluion. 55% of people say ETS is harmful to health
  • ETS and non-smokers: 70% of non-smokers are annoyed, and 42% very annoyed
  • ETS and Health Risk: 80% say it is a health hazard
  • Smokers and Pressure: Over half of smokers are uncomfortable smoking aound non-smokers. (Feel like second-class citizens)
  • Strategy:
  • Accommodation (use legislative process to compel)
  • Tactics: PR, advertising and direct mail ; pre-emptive model legislation; use CIAR and AISIE.
  • continue scientific battle. - provide statutory basis for the 'right to smoke' - isolate anti-smoking forces [12]

1988 Jan 4 the Executive Committee of the Tobacco Institute has "approved the concept of Operation Downunder and requested staff examination of the proposal in detail." The unilateral action by Philip Morris in devising Downunder implied criticism of the Tobacco Institute. Roger L Monzingo of TI expresses his doubts about the plan:

  • It is unclear from the document provided how Downunder will met the basic goal of the industry: maintain or increase its business.
  • Has the media's reaction to the plan been fully researched and tested? Is there evidence illustrating that Downunder can be sustained, more than a one-day blip within the media? Will the media be receptive to the message of "accommodation," or will members of the press question and then pillory the tobacco industry for a perceived cynical new position aimed at avoiding questions of primary smoking, ETS, product liability, etc?
  • Does research show that Downunder will "increase industry leverage in legislatures?"
  • We have had some suceess in broadening the issue past ETS to a more general concern with all indoor air components. It strikes us intuatively that Downunder's policy of accommodation and segregation may make our ventilation/clean indoor air work moot.
  • Does research indicate it better to "go national with Downunder before test marketing the program on a more fimited scale?'

... Experience makes us leery of the notion that the public, private businesses and lawmakers will fully embrace accommodation, and, at the same time, dismiss other smoking restriction and health concerns. Operation Downunder suggests that 80-percent of smokers and nonsmokers believe the wishes of both smokers/nonsmokers should be accommodated.

But clearly, the accommodation question will not arise in a vacuum. There are questions of politics; there are questions of ETS and its perceived health consequences; there are questions of media perception, that must be considered in conjunction with the accommodation approach. A staff proposal (ACVA advertising) deals with part of the ETS question. But to assess fully political and press questions, additional research is essential. [13]

1988 Feb The Tobacco Institute was now involved. This Progress Report came from their Public Affairs division.

- Progress Report from Peter Sparber/Fred Panzer
Planning and input for major initiatives continues to be emphasized.
In February, this included extensive work on the airline plan, "Operation Downunder," and the upcoming outreach program for Women's Magazines. [14]

1988 Feb 3 Meeting of the TI's Communications Committee. PM's Guy Smith gave a presentation:

Q: Did the Communications Committee chairman give a presentation at the meeting?

A: The minutes indicate that Chairman Smith outlined "Operation Downunder," a program to support and extend widely the position of the industry on the ETS issue in order to

  1. slow the decline in the social acceptability of smoking,
  2. create a more favorable legislative and regulatory environment at all levels of government, and
  3. position the industry as positive, enlightened and supportive of its customers while pressing for accommodation of smokers and nonsmokers in all social contexts without government intervention.

See Bennan Dawson Deposition also [15]

1988 Feb 18 Sam Chilcote, the head of the Tobacco Institute, is calling all of the tobacco industry's main lobbyists and science manipulators to a Downunder inaugural meeting on March 2 ... to assist in developing a consensus recommendation to the Executive Committee regarding the pending "Operation Downunder" proposal. [16]

1988 Mar 24 Walter Woodson at the Tobacco Institute is thanking Tom Ogburn at RJ Reynolds PR.

Just wanted to thank you for the fascinating and informative presentation yesterday at RJR. Your comments on the "Downunder" concept were most useful and I really enjoyed the walk-through of your "star wars" grassroots efforts. [17]

1988 Apr /E Peter Sparber, the main lobbyist and administrator of these matters at the Tobacco Institute, has made a boasting speech to Philip Morris executives about the activities of his Issues Management section. He praises the Philip Morris Corporate Affairs Division for their Operation Downunder brainstorming and projects (especially on ETS).

The last major program area is one that deals with this matter of annoyance. The essence of Downunder is to deal with annoyances by separating smokers and non-smokers... an "out of sight, out of mind" approach. And, in fact, it is clear that some people become terribly annoyed by the mere sight of smoke.

We are looking at this problem from another perspective.These ideas are quite preliminary... but we are particularly interested in your reaction... given David's [???] background in Clinical Psychology... and your own examination of the annoyance factor. It is our view that we are all annoyed by some things... and that we all do things which are annoying to some people, and that this is within the normal range of personal behavior... and interaction.

But in recent years some of the reactions to every day annoying behavior have become quite bizarre. On a number of occasions... anti-smokers have assaulted smokers with water pistols; aerosol cans; their fists; and even guns.We think it may be time to say that extreme reactions are anti-social, not every day annoyances, like smoking. To implement this program:

  1. We would create a coalition of groups concerned with this problem of over-reactions. The American Truckers Association... Service Employees Union... Restaurant groups...perhaps some management organizations.
  2. The Coalition would sponsor research demonstrating that over-reactions are abnormal and anti-social. With the help of a celebrity spokesman -- who might well have credentials as an author or social scientist -- the coalition would promote the fact that the great majority of Americans are tolerant of each other... but a very few have gone off the deep end and should be helped.
  3. Each organization within the Coalition... including us... would be encouraged to use this research to advise its own members.
  4. Each of our member companies would be provided with materials for targeted use with their customers that would emphasize the message that "over-reactions" --not smoking -- is anti-social.
  5. Finally... the Coalition would provide those of its members which deal with the public materials on conflict resolution. For example... how to identify trouble-makers and how to diffuse potentially bad situations.
  6. [From earlier in speech] On the broader issue of Indoor Air Quality we have a lot to say. We have good people to say it... and we get excellent results. Let me share some examples produced by a group of consultants and staff we call our "Truth Squad." (Run media videotape)

  • Our big gun these past few years has been Gray Robertson, (of ACVA/HBI) the last person you just saw. Last year Gray toured media in 34 markets and conducted more than 320 interviews.
  • Our greatest ally on Indoor Air Quality is organized labor... In particular, the tobacco industry Labor Management Committee, which we organized, - including ourselves and five international unions with tobacco manufacturing contracts.
  • In cooperation with the Association of Ventilation Contractors, the sheet metal workers have formed the National Energy Management Institute... or "NEMI" as it is called.

Overall... this work with "NEMI" not only clones Gray Robertson but gives us a strong, local presence and moves us ahead much faster. [18]

Note that both the workers and the company executives involved in installing and maintaining air-conditioning systems saw the value of cooperating with the tobacco industry to promote the idea that bigger-and-better air-conditioning was the answer to the passive smoke problem.

The Washingtonian Magazine story was published March 1988. The report Appendix outlines work being done for the Tobacco Institute by Gray Robertson and his staff at ACVA. It also discusses NEMI and its influence over the unions through AFL-CIO [19]


  1. Project Down Under Conference Notes, Bates Number 2021502102, Philip Morris, June 24, 1987.
  2. Conclusions of Downunder", Bates No. 2024986950, Philip Morris, 1987 (approx)