Tobacco industry position on indicating tobacco use on death certificates

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

The tobacco industry's trade group, the Tobacco Institute, worked to "defeat," "repeal," "modify" and "preempt" all regulatory proposals that would allow doctors to reference tobacco use on death certificates. An 1989 Institute strategy document states,


1. Tobacco Use on Death Certificates

a. Defeat all state legislative or regulatory proposals to include specific reference to smoking or tobacco use on death certificate forms.

b. Repeal of modify existing state regulations which have placed references to smoking or tobacco use on death certificate forms.

c. Monitor federal agency activity that could lead to inclusion of tobacco use questions on model death certificates.

d. Seek opportunities through federal action to preempt placement of such references on state forms.[1]

An 81 page, 1991 R.J. Reynolds (RJR) internal briefing manual actually argues that including information about tobacco use on death certificates "... is contrary to sound public health policy" and puts forth the argument that such questions are "likely to undermine efforts to achieve national uniformity in death certificate information by scrambling rather than clarifying the national data."[2]

An August, 1993 Tobacco Institute "Issue Brief" on indicating tobacco use on death certificates states,

The industry strongly opposes attempts to place specific tobacco use or "contribution" questions on death certificate forms by either regulatory or legislative means.

Strategizing about how the tobacco industry could gather support for its position, the document states,

Such legislation also may be opposed by other industries whose products are subjects of

public debate, such as alcoholic beverages, and by groups representing controversial lifestyles, such as gay and lesbian rights organizations. Once a state adds such a lifestyle question as tobacco use to death certificates, special interest groups may clamor to target other such lifestyle choices. Indeed, bills have been introduced to require death certificates

to reference alcohol and drug use, AIDS and eating disorders, as well as tobacco.[3]

Attempt to block use of death certificate information in court

An article from the November 19, 1969 Grand Rapids (Michigan) Press describes a case where the Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company (L&M) tried to block the use of a death certificate as a foundation for medical testimony linking smoking to a fatal lung cancer in a deceased father of four. L&M was facing a $750,000 damage claim alleging that a man named Leslie Thayer died from lung cancer caused by 30 years of smoking Chesterfield cigarettes, an L&M product. One of the Liggett attorney's arguments before the jury to exclude the death certificate information, before the judge quickly stopped him, was that "the industry supplies 314,000 jobs and contribues $4 billion annually to the economy."[4]

Related Sourcewatch resources

External resources


  1. Tobacco Institute Strategic Plan for the Tobacco Institute, September, 1989 Confidential Report. 45 pp. Bates No. TIMN0361642/1686
  2. R.J. Reynolds State Government Relations Legislative Counsel Briefing Book 1990-1991 Report. 81 pp. 1991. Bates No.507591790/1870
  3. Tobacco Institute Issue Brief: Tobacco Use on Death Certificates Position paper. August, 1993 6 pp. Bates No. 2044033318/3323
  4. Hank Bornheimer, Grand Rapids Press Tobacco Co. Overruled on Death Certificate Use Newspaper article. November 19, 1969. Tobacco Institute Bates No.TITX0013356