The Sick Science Tobacco Companies Pursue

cig.jpgBy Scott Thill | Those who complain about how the internet or advances in technology haven’t done enough to make us smarter or better may not truly remember what life was like before either. For one, digging up any type of public or private information took loads more work, especially when offending parties, from governments to free-marketers, were allowed to hide behind arbitrary legalese and the lawyers who enforce it. Before the internet, offenders worked in the shadows while their consumers and citizens were overexposed in the light.

But with organizations like the non-profit Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and their various exercises in citizen journalism, those unhappy days have thankfully passed. Check out one of their more interesting wiki projects called Maximum Weirdness, which rifles through declassified files from University of California, San Francisco’s Legacy Tobacco Documents Library and posts both the boring and bizarre results on a wikipedia dedicated strictly to Big Tobacco’s metaverse. It might sound like wonk work on paper, but the right mixture of keyword searches can produce some eye-opening, lung-crushing laughs. Or is that cries? You decide.

Consider the machines with electrostatic traps used to conduct analysis of tobacco smoke. On the surface it may read like science, but pulled roughly from a library file it feels like something out of the Terminator:

The machine is equipped with special controls for parameters such as puff duration, interval between puffs, number of puffs, automatic interruption of the puffs at a given butt length, expulsion of the butt, control of puff volume … At the same time up to twenty cigarettes from different samples can be smoked … The machine is suitable for both restricted and free smoking and a change between these two conditions can mechanically be achieved in a few seconds.

Whatever floats your boat, dude. That’s tame compared to trying to give cats hard-ons, which is what scientists at Tulane University did while trying to study the effects of nitric oxide on erections. At least they gave the cats some Special K before slicing and needling their manhood: “Twenty-six mature male cats … were sedated with ketamine hydrochloride…and anesthetized with sodium pentobarbital. A vertical, circumcision-like incision was made to expose the two ventral corpora cavernosa and the dorsal corpus spongiosum. A 30-gauge needle was placed into the right corpus to permit administration of the drug into the penis. A 25-gauge needle was placed midway into the left corpus for the measurement of intracavernous pressure.”

Normally, nitric oxide is a free radical pollutant belched from cars and factories, but who knew that having it mainlined into your penis from a couple of needles would give you an erection? Well, Tulane evidently, and now you. It’s may be a urologist’s dream, but most likely it’s a cat’s worst nightmare.

Of course, there are more damning documents. Brown and Williamson’s 1967 brainstorming session suggesting cocaine-enhanced cigarettes or signing on Fonzi from Happy Days as a celebrity endorsement is a good one. One interesting British American Tobacco Company document puts nicotine’s lethality into perspective, as its suits try to figure out ways to compete with harder drugs like heroin, cocaine and, yes, glue, all the while rationalizing that cigarettes might one day become as passe as pipes. Punch in some marketing keywords and you’ll find everything from proposals for celebrity smokers programs to cigarettes defiantly named after Death, or even the Black Death. The latter’s brainstorming one-sheet, courtesy of Philip Morris, is especially tactical in turning tolerance on its head with a four-point Bill of Rights for people who may be able to indirectly kill you if you’re near them while they’re smoking. “Black Death cigarettes are a direct protest from smokers against the strongly increasing intolerant anti-smoke movement,” it clumsily proclaims without irony about its ironically titled product. “Black Death smokers want to maintain their rights and they do not want to be socially discriminated by arbitrary legal measures.”

Word for word, the grammatically challenged pitch alone says more about the tobacco industry than all the Joe Camel ads you’ll ever read and throw away. After all, who else but the tobacco industry could complain with a straight face about intolerance and discrimination over a proposed product literally called the Black Death?

But there’s a wiki full of these in Maximum Weirdness, with room for more and with our best interests in mind. The opensourcing movement has changed the way information is compressed, computed and compiled, as well as how it is valued. Information may want to be free, as the internet maxim goes, but it takes public participation in citizen journalism through projects like this to make it happen.