The Goerlitz tapes

David Goerlitz receiving the WHO Medal of Honour, 1990

David Goerlitz is a former actor and model from New York. Between 1982 and 1988 he was the 'Winston Man', appearing in 42 billboard advertisements - more than the Marlboro man. In 1988, he publicly denounced the tobacco industry and joined the emerging anti-smoking movement. He has spent the last 21 years working in schools as a public speaker, encouraging kids not to start smoking.

There is no question that David remains passionately committed to tobacco prevention. He has been honoured by, amongst others, the World Health Organisation, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society. He has met everybody who is anybody in the anti-smoking movement and, after two decades, knows the movement inside out.

David was good enough to spend six hours talking to me while I was researching Velvet Glove, Iron Fist and he gave me a fascinating insider account of how tobacco control has operated in the past two decades. With his permission, I have put an edited version of our conversations online. In this explosive interview, he talks about how the tobacco control movement lost its way to become a "corrupt" and "greedy" institution dominated by extremists and "wackos".

Part 1 - Joining Tobacco Control

"I never intended to become an anti-smoking zealot and now I'm guilty by association."

In the first part of this interview, David explains why he joined the anti-smoking movement and why his 'defection' from the tobacco industry made headlines around the world.

Part 2 - The corruption of Tobacco Control

"They said: 'This is no longer going to be about health, it's going to be about money.' That's what I saw. That's the corruption."

In the mid-1990s, cigarette companies began talks with several US states, which resulted in them settling with the government in a $246 billion pay-out known as the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). In the second part of the interview, David explains why he sees the MSA as "our nation's biggest hoax".

Part 3 - Where did the money go?

"All we were doing was perpetuating the myth that tobacco control was really putting health above the financial end of it. And that's not what happened."

In the third part of the interview, the former Winston man discusses how the MSA billions were misspent and how prevention programs were abandoned in favour of an aggresive war against smokers.

Part 4 - On smoking bans

"We've lost the rationale to this. Treat people with dignity and respect. Once you turn on them and try to dehumanise them and make them feel like lepers you've got yourself a war."

In this excerpt, Goerlitz explains why he believes that people should be allowed to smoke in bars and why he is sceptical about much of science that is used to justify these bans. The problem, he says, is that the anti-smoking movement is dominated by "loud-mouthed zealots", "wackos" and "greedy people whose egos are out of check".

Part 5 - On junk science

"This is no longer about science....The numbers are made up."

In part 5, Goerlitz talks about his admiration for Dr Michael Siegel, who has exposed the shaky science at the heart of many recent claims made about secondhand smoke. The people attacking Siegel are Goerlitz's former colleagues in the anti-smoking movement, whom he describes as "some of the most obnoxious, egotistical people I've ever met in my life."

Part 6 - On prohibition

"Higher taxes don't work, prohibition doesn't work. Telling the truth does, in a way that brings people together."

Goerlitz talks about being dropped as a speaker in schools in Maryland because he was a "former addict". He goes on to condemn the anti-smoking movement for drifting towards prohibition which, he says, "has never worked".

Part 7 - On personalities

"He's an egomaniac, a Michael Moore wannabe. I think the man should lose 50 pounds before he starts talking about someone being overweight." [on John Banzhaf]

In this excerpt, Goerlitz tells the author exactly what he thinks of some of the many anti-smoking activists he has worked with in his 21 years in the movement. These people include former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, ASH's John Banzhaf, Simon Chapman and Jeff Wigand.

Part 8 - Being asked to lie

"They said: 'You can add in anything you want to even if it's a lie.'"

Goerlitz has appeared in court many times to give his testimony in lawsuits against the tobacco industry. In this excerpt he talks about how the lawyers he was working with asked him to exaggerate and lie because, they said, "nobody will ever know."

Part 9 - At an anti-smoking event

"He was so red and furious that he couldn't see straight."

Goerlitz recalls an amusing incident when he and various celebrities, including Matt Perry, came to the 'Emphysema Slims' tennis tournament organised by Alan Blum of Doctors Ought to Care.

Part 10 - Coming full circle

"I didn't know 21 years ago who I was co-operating with. I had no idea what their goals were going to ultimately be. I was lied to."

In the penultimate excerpt, Goerlitz explains why he will no longer work in tobacco control as it exists today.

Part 11 - Final thoughts

"All I can say is I'm sorry I got involved."

In this final excerpt, Goerlitz expresses his bewilderment at how "hateful, arrogant vindictiveness" has turned a health issue into a right's issue and how trying to understand the anti-smoking movement today is like "living in a foreign country where no one speaks English."

If you enjoyed this interview you might like A Global Prison - an interview with Dr Kamal Chaouachi.

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