Project Brass

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

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Project Brass was a 1993 Philip Morris (PM) project designed to confuse the public regarding the health dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke, and to minimize the damage that the secondhand smoke issue was causing the tobacco industry. Project Brass was PM's response to the Risk Assessment issued on January 7, 1993 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that classified secondhand tobacco smoke (also known as Environmental Tobacco Smoke, or ETS) as a Group A Human Carcinogen, the same rating the agency gives to asbestos, radon gas and vinyl chloride. [1]

Leo Burnett's Plan

On March 23, 1993 Leo Burnett Worldwide presented PM with a proposal titled Project Brass: A Plan of Action for the ETS Issue, which reveals the potency of the threat the ETS issue posed to the tobacco industry. Burnett states,

For the first time, [EPA] report provides alleged proof of link between ETS and cancer...Shifts argument from 'personal choice' to 'smoking is unhealthy for everyone'...Arms antis with scientific proof to go to OSHA...Fuels emotional hysteria of antis...Will likely accelerate efforts to prohibit/restrict smoking further...Alters image of smoker [from] 'Bad for him/her,' to 'smoker is bad for all of us.'...Puts further pressure on volume/revenue/profit trends. [2]

Strategies Burnett designed to help PM fight the ETS issue were to 1) broaden the ETS issue to encompass total indoor air quality (thus deflecting attention away from the ETS issue), 2) use "credible third parties" to help the company fight public health measures, and 3) "create a sense of doubt about the EPA ETS report". [3]

Ventilation strategy

PM did in fact employ, and in 2007 continued to employ, many of the suggested strategies. One strategy was to "frame the issue as a bigger one that just ETS" by claiming ventilation is the best solution to secondhand smoke. In fact, eliminating smoking indoors is the simplest, most effective and inexpensive way to deal with problems caused by secondhand smoke. Despite this, on its website PM USA states:

In indoor public places where smoking is permitted, business owners should have the flexibility to decide how best to address the preferences of non-smokers and smokers through separation, separate rooms and/or high quality ventilation.[4]

In reality, no manufacturer of ventilation or air purification systems will warrant their products to protect health in the case of secondhand tobacco smoke. [5]

Third party and "Too much government intervention" strategies

PM also creates third party front groups that advocate ventilation, like the "Hospitality Coalition for Indoor Air Quality." In virtually every venue where a public health smoking restriction is proposed, some business group (either existing or newly-appeared) will claim that the law is too much "government intervention." The "anti-government" strategy was proposed in 1993 by Burnett in Project Brass. [6]

Other SourceWatch Resources

External resources


  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency EPA Designates Passive Smoking a "Class A" or Known Human Carcinogen Press release. January 7, 1993
  2. Leo Burnett Worldwide, "Project Brass: A Plan of Action for the ETS Issue", March 23, 1993.
  3. Leo Burnett Worldwide, "Project Brass: A Plan of Action for the ETS Issue", March 23, 1993, p.30.
  4. Philip Morris USA, "Legislation & Regulation: Smoking Restrictions", accessed June 2007.
  5. Americans for NonSmokers Rights, "Ventilation and Air Filtration: What Air Filtration Companies and the Tobacco Industry Are Saying, August 2005.
  6. Leo Burnett Worldwide, "Project Brass: A Plan of Action for the ETS Issue", March 23, 1993. (On page 25 the Burnett strategy noted "Raise Flag of Government Intervention: Attempts to shift focus from EPA ETS report to one of the government interfering again").

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