At times, food scientists aided cigarette development. Scientists from Kraft's Maxwell House coffee division in the mid-1980s helped Philip Morris make test batches of low-nicotine cigarettes in coffee labs in New York and Germany, using their expertise in taking caffeine out of coffee to extract nicotine from tobacco.
Such a cigarette wasn't healthier. Cigarettes kill by releasing carbon monoxide, tar and other chemicals that increase the risk of cancer, emphysema and other ailments. But research at the time showed that consumers thought low-nicotine cigarettes were healthier and would buy some based on that misguided belief.
"It should be noted that the health benefits linked to this product appear to be invalid/misconceptions," noted a 1988 market research report commissioned by Philip Morris USA. "The absence of information to the contrary works in the product's favor."
Philip Morris ultimately built its own plant to extract nicotine. The company test marketed but later dropped the product.
Kraft's Daigler sees nothing unusual about such cooperation. "It's been publicly understood for some time that the coffee industry's methods and equipment for making decaffeinated coffee were relevant to efforts to reduce nicotine levels in tobacco products," she said.
Controlling `pleasure drugs'
The contacts between Philip Morris and Kraft reflect how the companies viewed food and tobacco, said William Farone, former director of applied research at Philip Morris. Farone, who left the company in 1984 before it bought Kraft, said that from 1980 onward there were talks in executive meetings about acquiring coffee and food companies.
Farone, who has testified against his former employer in tobacco lawsuits, said in a recent interview that he believed the strategy was "to control all of the pleasure drugs that are not regulated."
Victor Han, a spokesman for Altria, now the parent company of Kraft and Philip Morris, said in a written statement that such a strategy was "unknown to us here." Han said Altria "diversified at that time as a means to improve growth and expand the scope of our businesses."
The company long has sought to downplay the links between its food and tobacco arms. "Altria's companies operate independently of each other," Han said. "Kraft manufactures and markets its own distinct products. Scientists at our operating companies may occasionally share ideas and expertise for the benefit of their respective businesses."
But the corporate links have caused headaches for the foodmaker. Anti-smoking activists in 1994 launched a boycott of Kraft products.
Philip Morris hired Burson-Marsteller, a public-relations concern, to gather intelligence on the activists. In preparing executives for a worst-case scenario, the PR firm dreamed up a possible jingle that protesters might sing to the tune of "I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener":
"I wish I were a stockholder of Kraft. That is what I truly want to be; cause if I were a stockholder of Kraft, I'd stop this cruel tragedy ... Boycott Kraft General Foods!"
The companies have worked to limit collateral damage from the tobacco arm's bad public image. In 2003 the parent company changed its name from Philip Morris Cos. to Altria Group Inc. Altria executives said they did so partly to clarify that the corporate parent was a holding company, not a cigarette-maker.
Now Kraft and Philip Morris are planning to part ways. Once the courts rule on some key tobacco suits, Altria, which owns nearly 87 percent of Kraft, is preparing to spin off the foodmaker entirely.
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Research elicits different reactions
Public documents related to tobacco lawsuits provide a glimpse into the interplay between scientists at Kraft and Philip Morris.
Their collaboration on brain research "certainly sounds ominous," said Lloyd Kolbe, an Indiana University health sciences professor.
TRIBUNE SPECIAL REPORT: A FOLLOW-UP
Where there's smoke, there might be food research, too
Documents indicate Kraft, Philip Morris shared expertise on how the brain processes tastes, smells
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