#TBT: The Tobacco Industry is Grilled Before Congress

In 1994, seven big tobacco CEOs testified before Congress, claiming nicotine isn’t addictive — all under oath...

The relentless fight exposed tobacco’s decades of deceit

In 1994, 46 U.S. states sued the big tobacco companies for the recovery of Medicaid funds. That year, 7 big tobacco CEOs testified under oath before Congress. It wasn't until 1998 that the big tobacco companies finally admitted that nicotine is addictive — and that their products cause diseases like cancer. The tobacco companies agreed to pay out $246 billion over 25 years. That year, the companies were also ordered to declassify over 14 million internal corporate documents — known as the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents. The public then learned that big tobacco had spent half a century hiding tobacco's toxicity.

Over the last four decades, no member of Congress has done more to improve the health and well-being of Americans than Henry Waxman. He is, and for 40 years has been, the most dedicated, influential and effective advocate for public health in the House of Representatives. Senior F.D.A. officials and strong opponents of tobacco in Congress had said that they did not want to ban cigarettes outright but that some way ought to be found to regulate them to lessen the health and safety dangers that they have posed for decades. Some tobacco company executives, who asked not to be named said privately that they could accept some regulation. This hearing, they said, became the opening of a discussion about the future for cigarettes in the United States.

The relentless fight exposed tobacco’s decades of deceit. Today, we take it for granted that most Americans understand the truth about the dangers of tobacco use and the deception of the industry. The sea change on smoking in our country wouldn’t have happened without the courage and tenacity of politicians like Henry Waxman. In the 20th century, tobacco killed 100 million people globally. More deaths than in WW1 and WW2.