Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 1 - June 2010
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Imperial Tobacco proved that nicotine is addictive, then ordered the evidence destroyed

By Joe Strizzi

Canadian researchers have discovered original documents at an archive in Britain with scientific proof of the health risks related to smoking — documents which Imperial Tobacco Canada (ITC) tried to hide from the public.

In a report first published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) in October 2009, a research team led by psychologist David Hammond of the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, revealed the discovery of 60 documents that British American Tobacco (BAT), the parent company of ITC, instructed its Canadian affiliate to destroy in 1992. These papers contain internal scientific studies that the company thought might expose ITC to liability or embarrassment.

“We literally went through millions of pages to find the original documents,” said Dr. Hammond. “A memo identifying these documents be destroyed was found [which led to the discovery of the original documents at BAT’s British headquarters].”

Knowing is half the battle

Dr. Hammond and his colleagues identified the destroyed documents as scientific studies conducted between 1967 and 1984, which proves ITC long knew about the potentially deadly effects of smoking, and this concealed knowledge could have had significant implications for governmental tobacco regulation and the future health of Canadians.

Not only did they conceal these studies, but they tried to destroy them,” said Dr. Hammond adding, “The sophistication of these studies is impressive. This helps us understand what the industry really knew.”

Among their findings, researchers unearthed three significant studies directly related to issues at the heart of the tobacco control debate in Canada, and which directly contradict the tobacco industry’s stance over the last two decades.

The review found that 40 of the 60 documents deal with the cancer-causing and biological activity of cigarettes, showing a link between cigarette smoke and a range of health effects. One such study, entitled Project Janus, concluded that long-term inhalation of tobacco smoke led to cancerous lesions. According to Dr. Hammond, this proves that the tobacco company knew the dangers of smoking cigarettes, but chose to suppress the truth about its products.

Another set of documents confirmed the dangers of second-hand smoke, “demonstrating that second-hand smoke [could be even] more dangerous than first-hand smoke,” said Dr. Hammond, particularly with cigarettes identified as light or mild.

A study of documents examining the effects of filters found that rats exposed to carbon-filtered smoke actually had more particles attached to their lungs than rats exposed to less filtered smoke. Since filters make smoke less irritating, the subjects could tolerate inhaling more of it. The implication for smokers of “mild” or “light” cigarettes is that they are able to compensate for lower nicotine levels by inhaling more of the “smoother,” more filtered smoke, which increases their exposure to harmful toxins.

The tests found that the primary outcome in all exposed animals was a consistent smoke-induced change in the larynx (a.k.a., the voice box).


What is most disturbing, according to the report, is that the tobacco industry not only concealed but publicly denied having knowledge of the adverse health effects of smoking.

In 1987, for example, Jean-Louis Mercier, the then CEO of ITC and chair of the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers’ Council, testified in front of a House of Commons Legislative Committee that it was not the position of the tobacco industry that tobacco causes any disease.

“This denial came three years after the last scientific study, which was ordered destroyed, had been completed,” said Dr. Hammond. “In the 90s, the tobacco industry actively opposed workplace smoking regulations, despite having studies, conducted by and paid for by BAT.”

To sue or not to sue

“The significance of our findings is that, for the first time in Canada, our [provincial] governments have documented proof that the tobacco companies acted in bad faith and can use this information in their legal battles,” said Dr. Hammond.

In September, the province of Ontario followed in the footsteps of British Columbia and New Brunswick, launching a $50 billion lawsuit against the Big Tobacco companies, made up of ITC, JTI-Macdonald, and Rothmans Benson & Hedges. Recently, the remaining Canadian provinces followed suit, passing legislation permitting their governments to sue tobacco companies for lost health care costs (see article on page 8 for more).

In 1998, the health group Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health sought certification for a class action against the major Canadian tobacco companies on behalf of nearly two million Quebec smokers. The plaintiffs had hoped to use as evidence the fax, which referred to a memo listing 60 documents that were to be destroyed. Six years later, in 2004, the Quebec Court refused to admit the evidence, stating the memo fell under attorney-client privilege.



Documents sought for over two decades

Researchers knew of the existence of these damning documents for a long time, but were unable to access them. In 1994, copies of internal documents from the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, a subsidiary of BAT, and other organizations with connections to tobacco were leaked and studied by Stanton A. Glantz, a renowned US-based tobacco control researcher. His first findings were published in 1995 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

In fact, access to BAT’s internal documents was made possible in 1998 as the result of a court settlement in Minnesota, making available over 40 million internal documents stored in both Great Britain and in Minnesota. A court proceeding in Massachusetts in July 1998 brought to light an exchange of faxes, dated 1992, between a law firm in Montreal under the service of ITC, and another law firm working for BAT in London, which identified a memo referring to the 60 documents intended for destruction.