Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Day 14 - Researching smokers' concerns

When Imperial Tobacco Canada’s (ITL) former Vice President of Marketing, Tony Kalhok, resumed his testimony in the Montreal tobacco trials today, plaintiff lawyer André Lespérance returned to the same themes he had addressed the day before – the response of Imperial Tobacco and its marketing department to knowledge about the harms of smoking.

Almost 20 documents were introduced over the course of the day, and while Mr. Kalhok was questioned at length on some documents, others were entered into the record with little commentary. Mr. Kalhok continued to answer questions readily, matter-of-factly and with apparent confidence.

Analyzing the smoker

One of the first document to be discussed dated from the mid 1970s, (Exhibit 127) and provided results from ITL’s commissioned questions on surveys conducted by the then-leading polling firm, Canadian Facts. The results, from an industry standpoint, were grim. Smokers were increasingly of the view that cigarettes were harmful to all smokers (and not just those who smoked a lot or were in poor health). The number of smokers who wanted to quit was on the rise, as was the number who successfully quit. Mr. Kalhok's department graphed these changes, annotating them with references to concurrent political and social events, such as legislative proposals to ban tobacco advertising, a CBC program on quitting, and the appearance of warning labels.

Other documents showed more complex research approaches introduced during Mr. Kalhok's time at ITL. One of these was a 1977 report on segmenting English and French speaking smokers (Exhibit 130), Mr. Kalhok spoke with enthusiasm of his department’s use of this “highly sophisticated statistical method." 

He explained that this process was used to match the development of cigarette brands to the “ideal attributes” that a smoker wants. The insights on smokers’ views that were derived from questions were translated into vector graphs, he explained, where the length of the vector signified the importance of the issue to the population, and was then further mapped to allow for the creation of new brands.  He described this method as “a very powerful tool” that Imperial Tobacco “absolutely did use”. 

This research removed the guess work and "seat of the pants" decision making from many product design questions, Mr. Kalhok explained. “We had 6 million smokers who used their product 20 times a day.  So therefore you could do this kind of research and have statistical validity.” 

Other studies introduced today showed Imperial Tobacco probing into smokers attitudes on a number of dimensions.  The company noted that French speaking Canadians were much more likely to smoke than their Anglophone counterparts (Exhibit 130, Exhibit 145) (although Mr. Kalhok could not say why). They analyzed the differing circumstances of smokers with high health concerns and those with lower health concerns (Exhibit 143). They tracked how smokers felt about proposed new regulations on tobacco (Exhibit 144).

How these insights were applied to marketing was suggested in a set of documents introduced by Mr. Lespérance in the early afternoon. Project Gatwick (Exhibit 136 and 138) acknowledged “pressure will continue upon all brands to become 'safer' if they are unable to deny the deleterious effects of smoking.”  The marketing objective (in this case for a new Players sub-brand) was a cigarette that had lower tar and nicotine and that was perceived by the smoker to be lighter, but which still provided “satisfaction.” As smokers' were changing, the industry felt, the products must too.

Studying children who smoke

It was while Mr. Kalhok was head of Marketing in 1975 that Imperial Tobacco first researched the age at which Canadian smokers started smoking. (Exhibit 139 and 139a), finding that “it would appear that people are starting younger than they used to."  Within 2 years, however, his department had launched an extensive research project (Project 16, Exhibit 142, 142a, 142b) to find out “the who, what, why, where and when of cigarette smoking among teenagers.”

Bring your own popcorn

For most of the day, questions were asked and answered with few interjections or objections (although there were more than a few moments of confusion). As the clock ticked towards 4:30, however, the dynamics changed when Mr. Lespérance attempted to introduce audio-visual materials as evidence.  

Justice Riordan decided to remove the "reserve" status that had been placed on a transcript of a CBC interview with ITL head Paul Pare (Exhibit 25). Once Mr. Kalhok had unhesitatingly identfied the voice of Mr Pare, the exhibit became admissible.

He did not rule, however, on the admissibility of a film that had been proposed to be shown to ITL’s employees ("The Answers We Seek, covering memo at Exhibit 146). Mr. Lespérance's attempts provoked vigorous objections from the industry’s lawyers. The session adjourned at 4:30 with the suggestion that the film would be screened tomorrow morning before a decision was made on its future status.  (A transcript of the film is available on the American Legacy site).

Mr. Lesérance also indicated there was a third film he wished to introduce, “Life itself is a hazard,” in which senior officials of Imperial Tobacco and Rothmans contextualize their view of the hazards of smoking in a CBC broadcast.  

Tomorrow, Thursday April 12th, is expected to be Mr. Kalhok's last day as witness to this trial.