Sherwin J. Feinhandler

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

Sherwin J. Feinhandler, Ph.D was a behavioral and sociological consultant to the tobacco industry and a cultural anthropologist who worked through the Harvard University's Medical School. He assisted Philip Morris by describing the social benefits of smoking. His work was seminal in helping Philip Morris understand that to keep cigarettes attractive to kids, you had to deny kids access to them and portray them as an adult product.(See Philip Morris's Archetype Project, c. 1991, based in part on Feinhandler's findings.)

Before becoming a Philip Morris consultant he had provided wider services to the tobacco industry as a whole through the International Committee on Smoking Issues (ICOSI) which was based in Brussels and England at various times.


Sherwin J. Feinhandler, PhD., was President of Social Systems Analysts Inc., a social/behavioral research and consulting firm in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA. Feinhandler was an English-born sociologist/cultural anthropologist with degrees from Northwestern University, Syracuse and Harvard. He had also studied at London University. Served as an assistant professor in Dept. of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, was a lecturer at Harvard. He elucidated the benefits of smoking.

While lecturing in Anthropology at Harvard, Feinhandler also worked on the side for many poisoning and polluting industries willing to pay for his advice and for his generated propaganda. His private consulting business was called Social Systems Analysts Inc. The tobacco industry hired him as support for an international operation of the global industry known as ICOSI in the early 1980s This was quite separate to his advice on encouraging children's smoking for Philip Morris. Feinhandler was sometimes paid directly by the Tobacco Institute's CTR Special Projects division for "consultancy': on these occasions he was paid via the SA#4 account [a code reference to the top secret account for people who can't afford to have their names exposed in a deposition. [1] also online at [[2]

Sherwin Feinhandler was relatively famous in the late 1970s and the tobacco industry realised that he could be most effectively used to discredit anti-smoking activists, and also act as a consultant to them on why children smoked. As with most other academics, he didn't want to be paid directly for his services, so payments were made through his private company Social Systems Analysts. Feinhandler was a witness for the tobacco industry in many hearings, and he became caught up in a series of law suits which followed the Master Settlement Agreement between President Clinton's administration and the cigarette companies. His statements and depositions are worth reading. [3] (Google shows six different legal testimonies)

See also Institute for Policy and Management Research

Documents and Timelines

1979 Professors Richard E Wagner and Robert Tollison began working with the tobacco industry's international propaganda organisation, ICOSI (International Committee on Smoking Issues) at this time. ICOSI was also recruiting a number of other academics -- from toxicologists to sociologists; philosophers and economists. Sherwin Feinhandler was one of their first, and he was paid today's equivalent of about a million dollars for his services over a few years.

The International Committee on Smoking Issues (ICOSI) was put together by the international tobacco companies at a secret meeting in the UK, under the code-name "Operation Berkshire". It was a European-based organisation of executives and lobbyists for the global industry which was established to combat the growing pressures to fight against smoking, both for smoker-health and non-smoker "passive smoking" reasons. It did so by recruiting recognised experts to perform various tasks. The main aim was to confuse scientific, medical and economic arguments.

ICOSI had a number of sub-committees, one of which was the Social Acceptability Working Party (SAWP) which hired consultant George Berman of Devon Management in the USA to create a small cabal of prominent academics who would work for the industry without revealing their connections. The most prominent of these were:


1979 Jan 30 Tobacco law firm, Jacob & Medinger (J&M) presents a supplementary bill for the consultant's services. They have added a few new names and entries for ICOSI/SAWP operations:

Also another account:

[Note: SA1 refers to the secret set of accounts that the tobacco industry ran through the J&M lawyers to hide payments from discovery. SA1 = Special Account #1. The numbers corresponded to their current list of Special Projects. These projects and accounts were kept hidden from the Scientific Advisory Boards and from everyone else not in the core group of tobacco conspirators. The lawyers had their own Special Project accounts, and Philip Morris also used the system internally.]

Also awaiting approval was an account for

[Note: Weiss/Watson refers a partnership of marketing experts Philip Weiss, and David Watson. They were receiving about a quarter of a million dollars a year from Philip Morris at this time + this payment from the Tobacco Institute.]

Estimates for month of June were

[Note: At about this time $15,000 would buy you a modest house in most cities]

George Berman's analysis of Social Cost problems and strategy.
(May 1979) ICOSI consultant George Berman pointed to the rising clamour about the cost to various countries of smoking-related diseases which are paid for by the wider society.

It would be pointless to just dispute these arguments with similar data, to attack their numbers with our numbers. Instead, our strategy is to attack the concept of social cost analysis. We have found that these concepts are most vulnerable. If we can undermine the concepts, then we do not have to enter into public debate over specific numbers. Our attack consists of four major themes:

  1. These Social Cost concepts are bad economics
  2. They do not fit into a philosophy of personal freedom and civil liberty.
  3. Smoking benefits the society and its members in many complex ways
  4. Anti-smoking programs and groups are harmful to our society.
He goes on to develop arguments about the countermeasures he believes to be necessary. Firstly he attacks cost-benefit analysis, saying:

"The application of social cost analysis to smoking is defective economics applied to uncertain data. To develop this point we have called on two leading economists from the Center for Study of Public Choice, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

He has also asked others to contribute: The list shows:

  • Dr Richard Wagner
  • Dr Robert Tollison (see material below).
  • Dr Robert Nozick, Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University HE IS A prominent guru of Libertarianism.
  • Sherwin J Feinhandler, President of Social Systems Analysts and lecturer at Harvard University Medical School wrote on How smoking defines your personal space!
  • Dr Peter Berger Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University who notes that many techniques which strengthen the position of the religious advocate are found among anti-smokers ... "Elitism Messianic Drive, Punishment... Class Antagonism.
  • Dr Aaron Wildavsky, of UCLA Berkeley isolate and define the motivations and the alliances of the active anti-smoking leadership. They are anti-capitalist, anti-industrial, anti-multinational and countermodern.
Note: Wildavsky was paid through the Institute for Policy and Management Research [7]

1979 May 14 George Berman, has prepared a speech to be delivered at a meeting of the ICOSI group in Europe (later INFOTAB) He plans to discuss Social Costs - Social Values to introduce European tobacco lobbyists associated with the Social Acceptability Working Party (SAWP) to the concepts of economics -- and to acquaint them with ICOSI's strategy to counter Social Cost claims.

'[Note: The claims he challenges are that smokers impose an 'external' cost on society, and therefore high cigarette excises are justified.
SAWP counter this with a 'rights' argument: that non-smokers must accept the right of smokers to smoke.]

Berman has put together a core team of US academics -- and this speech is an attempt to widen his group by also recruiting European academics.

He identifies their academic helpers:

  • Richard Wagner and Robert Tollison are economists who are willing to help the industry.

    Dr Richard E Wagner is the author of 11 books and monographs, and over 20 articles in the field of public finance and economics. During the last six months he was Visiting Professor of Economics at the renowned University Of Konstanz.

His colleague, Dr Robert Tollison has served as a consultant to the US government Treasury Department, Commerce Department, Office of Technology Assessment and the Council On Wage And Price Stability.

These two gentlemen are co-authors of a forthcoming book called Personal Liberty, State Action And Economic Coordination , a title which certainly covers the subject of this project.

The economists working on this project are first developing a "Layman's Guide" to social cost/benefit analysis. This Layman's Guide will include the participation of economists from countries other than the United States. When a basic position has been established, the economists will examine closely the social cost papers which have appeared in each country. A critique of each paper will be filed with ICOSI alongside the paper itself..

This will provide us with a weapon against arbitrary, careless attacks using "Social Cost" as a rationale.

[SEE long refererence in ICOSI for the rest of this revealings speach, detailing the role to be played by the other academic participants + quotes]

1979 Dec Annual reconciliation for the Tobacco Institute's Special Account #1 (Jan-Dec 79). Payments were made originally via RJ Reynolds and then refunded by ICOSI.

  • Prof. Aaron Wildavsky paid [Inst.Policy & Mgmt Res,] $16,000 (Mar); $20,283 (June); $30,204 (Jul); $2951 (Oct) -- $122,124 for the year.
  • Prof. Sherwin Feinhandler (Social Systems Analysts) paid $15,642 (June), $29,296 in July, $37.358 in Oct -- $82,296 for the year
  • Prof. Robert Tollison paid $2157 (Mar); $2000 (June); $2693 (Jul); $1672 (Oct) -- $ 8,521 for year
  • Prof. Richard Wagner paid $1740 (Mar); $2000 (June); $3208 (Jul); $1600 (Oct) -- $ 8,548 for year
  • Prof. Robert McCormick paid $1,125 in May
  • Prof. Peter Berger paid $ 1,500 (May); $855 (Jul) -- $2,355 for the year
  • Prof. Edward Harris paid $2,900 (May); $2850 (Jul); $6080 (Oct) -- $11,830 for year
  • Prof. Steven Littlechild paid $1877 (July); $2,446 (Oct) -- $4,323 for the year
  • Prof Norman Heimstra received $12,998 in October
  • Prof Robert Nozick received $8,104 in July
  • D Maxey received $4,000 in October (unknown)


1980 Nov (CONTEXT) Ronald Reagan as been elected as President with George HW Bush as his Vice President.

1981 Jan 7 (At time of Reagan's inauguration) The document "Social Costs/Social Values (Progress Report)" has been prepared (probably by George Berman to give the dissembler-executives in the various cigarette companies around the world an overview of the activities of the relatively new international lobby operation called ICOSI (International Committee on Smoking Issues). ICOSI was located in Brussels with Mary Covington as director and its most active subcommittee was known as SAWP.

These conferences were focussed on countering the "Social Cost" argument which blamed tobacco smoke for both health and environmental costs (both with smokers and non-smokers) Smokers were less productive, had greater absentee rates, offices required more air-conditioning and cleaning, etc.
  • A.T. Kearney, a contract company was engaged in some surreptitious activity and was expanding its workforce, and devising a work plan to attack the workplace smoking ban movement.
  • Matrix Corporate Affairs in London was developing a project on smoking as a civil liberty right.
  • ICOSI's main focus was on the World Health Organisation, trying to block it from running an anti-smoking program by questioning its budget priorities. The tobacco industry turned its enormous financial resources onto attacking the WHO for wasting money on smoking, that should (in their opinion) be spent on third-world diseases, research on drugs, fighting malaria, etc.
* ICOSI was having problems with some members of National Manufacturer Associations (NMAs)(some from developing countries) who didn't see anti-WHO activity as a priority. The donations which funded WHO's anti-smoking programs had been 'earmarked' for this; and therefore unlikely to be abandoned.
There is a long analysis piece here about WHO and the anti-smoking movement.

This 9-page document gives a good outline of the activities that the tobacco industry had going worldwide in 1981. [10]


Works by Sherwin Feinhandler

Related SourceWatch resources

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