‘1994, CEOs of Seven Major Tobacco Corporations in the United States Swear That Nicotine is Not Addictive’

On August 8 2022, an image purportedly showing seven chief executive officers of tobacco companies at a 1994 hearing was shared to Reddit’s r/agedlikemilk (a subreddit for anything that has deteriorated with age instead of improving over time):

Although the submission was titled “…,” text at the top of the image read:

Fact Check

Claim: “CEOs of 7 major tobacco corporations testifying under oath that nicotine does NOT cause addiction. 1994.”

Description: In 1994, CEOs of seven major tobacco corporations in the United States testified before Congress under oath that they do not believe nicotine is addictive. This claim was shared on social media and referenced in numerous news articles.


Rating Explanation: Review of archival footage, transcripts, and news articles confirm that seven tobacco executives did testify before Congress in 1994, all stating they did not believe nicotine to be addictive.

CEOs of 7 major tobacco corporations testifying under oath that nicotine does NOT cause addiction. 1994.

In October 2021, a nearly identical post was shared to Reddit’s r/interestingasfuck:

The October 2021 submission was to a different subreddit, featured a color version of the same image, and the text was in the title. It read:

April 14, 1994. CEOs of seven major tobacco corporations in the United States swear that nicotine is NOT addictive[.]

Neither post linked to any additional information about the image. Of the two, the 2021 version provided a date for the photograph: April 14 1994.

A search for information on the events purportedly depicted led to a New York Times article dated April 15 1994, “Tobacco Chiefs Say Cigarettes Aren’t Addictive,” the day after the date listed with the photo. The article (archived here) began with context about the hearing:

The top executives of the seven largest American tobacco companies testified in Congress today [April 15 1994] that they did not believe that cigarettes were addictive, but that they would rather their own children did not smoke.

The executives, sitting side by side at a conference table in what seemed to many a counterpoint to the growing antismoking sentiment in Congress, faced more than six hours of sharp questioning by members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment … Democratic Congressmen on the panel, inspired by recent news reports, pressed the executives on whether their companies manipulated the content of nicotine to keep smokers addicted to cigarettes. The executives acknowledged that nicotine levels could be and were controlled by altering the blends of tobacco, but they said this was done to enhance flavor, not to insure addiction.


Among the most significant statements by the executives were those that confirmed that tobacco companies could control the amount of nicotine in cigarettes by varying the types of tobacco and the parts of the tobacco plant that were used in a particular blend. They said a number of their cigarettes, primarily low-tar brands, did use high-nicotine blends, which gave more nicotine to the smoker than the cigarettes might have otherwise given. They use these blends for flavor, they explained.

Later in the article, the outlet reported all seven executives answered “no” to a question of whether they each believed cigarettes were addictive:

At one point during the hearing, [Representative Albert R. Wyden, Democrat of Oregon] presented a stack of data from medical groups and a 1989 Surgeon General’s report on the perils of smoking, [and asked] each executive in turn if he believed that cigarettes were addictive. Each answered no.

An undated University of California San Francisco page (“Tobacco CEO’s Statement to Congress 1994 News Clip ‘Nicotine is not addictive'”) featured a very short clip and transcript. That transcript repeatedly featured direct “nicotine is not addictive” quotes, or variations of that claim:

REP. RON WYDEN: Let me begin my questioning on whether or not nicotine is addictive. Let me ask you first, and I’d like to just go down the row, whether each of you believes that nicotine is not addictive. I heard virtually all of you touch on it. Yes or no, do you believe nicotine is not addictive?

I believe nicotine is not addictive, yes.

REP. RON WYDEN: Mr. Johnston?

Mr. Congressman, cigarettes and nicotine clearly do not meet the classic definition of addiction. There is no intoxication.

REP. RON WYDEN: We’ll take that as a “no.” Again, time is short. I think that each of you believe that nicotine is not addictive. We would just like to have this for the record.

I don’t believe that nicotine or our products are addictive.

I believe that nicotine is not addictive.

I believe that nicotine is not addictive.

I believe that nicotine is not addictive.

And I, too, believe that nicotine is not addictive.

On June 1 1996, the Los Angeles Times published “All 7 Tobacco Executives in Perjury Probe Have Quit the Industry,” reporting:

RJR Nabisco Holdings Corp. on [May 31 1996] announced that James W. Johnston, chief of its worldwide tobacco operations, will leave the company at the end of this month [June 1996] to spend more time with his family.

Johnston, 50, chairman of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and vice chairman of the parent company, will be the last of seven tobacco chief executives under investigation for possible perjury in testimony before Congress to leave the industry.

That article reported that the seven tobacco executives’ April 1994 testimony was not without consequence, leading to additional investigation into the veracity of the statements about nicotine being addictive and the tobacco industry in general:

Johnston was one of seven top industry officials whose testimony before a congressional subcommittee triggered one of four pending grand jury probes of the industry.

The executives testified on April 14, 1994, that they did not believe nicotine was addictive. Within days, explosive internal documents from Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. that appeared to contradict their testimony were leaked to members of Congress and the media.

Included in the documents was a memo written in 1963–prior to the landmark surgeon general’s report–in which a top Brown & Williamson executive observed: “We are then in the business of selling nicotine, an addictive drug effective in the release of stress mechanisms.”

In his congressional testimony, Johnston said, among other things: “Cigarettes and nicotine clearly do not meet the classic definitions of addiction. There is no intoxication.”

A popular August 8 2022 post to Reddit’s r/agedlikemilk suggested that an image showed “CEOs of 7 major tobacco corporations testifying under oath that nicotine does NOT cause addiction,” and a previous post said that the testimony took place in April 1994. Archival footage and a transcript demonstrated that seven tobacco executives testified before Congress in April 1994, all stating they did not believe nicotine to be addictive. A 1996 Los Angeles Times article reported that all seven had since left the industry, and that “within days” of the April 1994 hearing, “explosive internal documents” emerged to contradict the executives’ assertions.