Healthy Buildings International

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Healthy Buildings International (HBI) was international company of indoor air quality consultants who worked almost exclusively for the tobacco industry for many decades. The founders were English, but they operated mainly in the USA, before extending their operations to Australia, Asia, and Europe It had previously been known as ACVA (both ACVA Atlantic and ACVA Pacific) when it was a partnership with Peter Binnie; Gray Roberson later took the company over and brought in his brother (based in Sydney) to run the Australian and Asian operations.

ACVA then changed its name to Health Buildings International (HBI) in about September 1989. And under its director Gray Robertson, it worked closely with the tobacco industry to encourage corporations not to ban smoking in the workplace, but instead blame other possible causes of indoor air pollution. To carry out this strategy, HBI promoted the use of the term "Sick Building Syndrome" which was a variation on the "Tight Building Syndrome" term invented by Theodor Sterling.

Healthy Buildings International (HBI)
Peter WH Binnie and Gray Robertson
Richard Silberman and Simon Turner
Jeffrey R Seckler and Reginald B. Simmons
Business Council on Indoor Air
The Legionnaire's disease scam
Sick Building Syndrome
ACVA/HBI (Doc Index)
Explanatory Notes.
A major scam of the tobacco industry was to label high-rise buildings and offices as 'sick-buildings' in order to force the owners and occupiers to increase the rate of air-exchange, and therefore reduce the discomfort from passive smoking without blaming cigarettes. This problem arose from the rapid rise of energy costs in the 1980s and 90s, when the rate of air-exchange was kept deliberately low to save energy bills, resulting in increased complaints from non-smokers and smokers suffering eye problems and headaches. The aim of identifying buildings as 'sick' was to scapegoat air-conditioning maintenance and air-exchange rates as the cause of the problem, rather than passive smoke. A whole corrupt industry was constructed around this thesis; unions and equipment manufacturers also benefitted financially.
This propaganda was coupled with funding of IAQ-testing companies to produce loaded reports


In the mid to late 1980s, information about the dangers of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) became widespread, and started diminishing the social acceptability of smoking worldwide. This led to an increase in legislated and voluntary smoking restrictions, which, in turn, led to fewer and fewer locations where people could smoke. The tobacco industry perceived in the secondhand smoke issue a massive threat to its profitability. Those inside the industry knew, though, that tobacco interests could not act on their own behalf on the issue, because acting in its own self-interest would render it completely lacking in credibility. The remedy was to deflect attention away from secondhand smoke entirely by employing a highly visible, and credible, third party to publicly focus on the broader issue of indoor air pollution in general.

ACVA Atlantic started out as a small firm that inspected and cleaned office Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. The Tobacco Institute and Philip Morris in particular found an effective voice in Gray Robertson, head of ACVA Atlantic (Air Conditioning Ventilation Associates Atlantic), that specialized in indoor building environments.

In return for tobacco industry support, Gray Robertson began a widespread campaign to deflect attention away from environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) as a point source of indoor air pollution, by broadening the issue into one of indoor air pollution in general ("ventilation"). Robertson promoted what he called "Sick Building Syndrome," building it into a widely touted national concern featured in the late 1980s in magazines and electronic media. The tobacco industry sent Robertson on national media tours, employed him to give "expert testimony" at public hearings to help defeat clean indoor air legislation, to write articles debunking the notion that cigarette smoke indoors was a serious problem, and to give "informational" presentations on the industry's spin on indoor air issues to policymakers and employees of regulatory agencies. The tobacco industry eventually assumed the financing of Robertson's business, re-naming it Healthy Buildings International (HBI). They set up HBI satellite offices, and began to promote HBI internationally, using it effectively to help combat voluntary and regulatory smoking restrictions in countries around the world.[1][2][3]

HBI was founded by John Graham "Gray" Robertson, who, as of 2004, was still listed as President of HBI.[4]

HBI changed owners and severed all ties with the tobacco industry in 1999.[citation needed] HBI currently lists Philip Morris under "Other Notable Clients" on its web site.

Overseas affiliates

  • Australia: Gray's brother Joseph Robertson ran a subsidiary HBI (Aust) in Sydney to service Australia and Asia.
  • Europe HBI had a subsidiary known as IAQ Diagnostics Ltd. {need more information]
  • London UK The building company Nisses] Ltd. had a license from HBI
  • HIROSS ventilation company
  • US Contact: Healthy Buildings International, Fairfax, Virginia Web site: [1]
Subcommittee on Health and the Environment - Majority Staff Report: Dec. 20 1994
Healthy Buildings International (HBI) began its relationship with the tobacco industry in 1985. At that time, the company was a small and obscure indoor air firm. In addition to the president and vice president, it had only two technical employees and operated under the name ACVA Atlantic. Over the next nine years, however, HBI grew to be an international presence in the indoor air field. This was due in large measure to the patronage of the tobacco industry. During this period, the Tobacco Institute, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, and the Center for Indoor Air Research (a tobacco-industry research organization) paid HBI millions of dollars for its services.
    The tobacco industry went to great lengths to promote HBI. The Tobacco Institute paid the expenses of a public relations firm, Fleishman-Hillard, to arrange media tours for HBI throughout the United States. From September 1990 to November 1992, Philip Morris covered all the expenses of, and paid HBI a substantial fee for, the publication of a magazine entitled "Healthy Buildings International Magazine." The magazine, which included glossy color photographs, was published in eight languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch, and Finnish) and disseminated worldwide.
    A report circulated within HBI in late 1991 or 1992 describes "the HBI concept" that the tobacco industry paid so much to promote. According to this document, "the key objective of the HBI concept is to broaden the debate on indoor air quality to deflect the ETS challenge." The document states that "HBI is now positioned as an authority on IAQ issues" [and has] "brought balance to the IAQ [indoor air quality] debate" [by promoting] "acceptance that ETS is in fact a minor contributor."
    HBI performed at least two vital services for the tobacco industry. First, it conducted scientific research for the industry that purported to show that ETS is not a significant source of indoor air pollution. The most significant of these research studies was done in 1989, when HBI was paid over $200,000 by the tobacco industry's Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR) to study ETS levels in 585 office environments. The results of this study were summarized in a final report to CIAR in January 1990 presented to EPA in public comments in September 1990, and formally published in 1992.
    In addition to conducting research for the tobacco industry, HBI regularly testified for the industry in opposition to federal, state, and local restrictions on smoking. Over most of the last decade, HBI was the tobacco industry's principal defender on ETS matters. According to the records of the Tobacco Institute, HBI testified 129 times for the Tobacco Institute from August 1985 through September 1994 -- an average of more than once per month. In some months, HBI testified as many as six times. HBI's appearances for the Tobacco Institute included testimony before Congress (including this Subcommittee on June 27, 1986, and March 17, 1994), before state legislatures, and before local governments. [2]


Sourcewatch resources

External resources


  1. Chapman S, Penman A "Can’t stop the boy": Philip Morris’ use of Healthy Buildings International to prevent workplace smoking bans in AustraliaTobacco Control 2003;12:iii107
  2. Tobacco Institute Indoor Air Quality Program Confidential report. Undated. Bates No. TIDN0011761/1769
  3. Myron Levin, Los Angeles Times Indoor air consultant settles whistleblower suit July 2, 1998. Bates No. 2063798249/8250
  4. Healthy Buildings International Healthy Buildings International Launch an Interactive, Web-based Training Seminar on Moulds in Commercial Buildings Press release. July 15, 2004

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