Monday, 10 September 2012

Day 55 (September 7) The orphans' stories.

See note on accessing documents at the end of this post. (Please note that the database is not properly displaying some of these recent exhibits)

The unusual Friday sitting of the trial of the Quebec class actions against tobacco companies followed the pattern of the previous two days and was divided into two very separate sessions. Over the course of the morning, in a witness-free Montreal court room, plaintiff lawyers turned historic documents into trial exhibits.   In the afternoon (Montreal time), Peter Gage, a man who had once held senior posts with Macdonald Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and the CTMC concluded his tele-conferenced testimony from a Victoria, British Columbia.

A documentary orphanage.

It was 50 years ago this year in 1962 that the British Royal College of Physicians published its Report on Smoking and Health (Exhibit 545). This was a watershed moment in public health, but a crisis for the tobacco companies.

How the industry's responded to the report's findings that "cigarette smoking is an important cause of lung cancer" and the acceleration on public and government concern about tobacco use that followed is important to this trial. But with the eyewitnesses to that period now mostly dead, the facts on what happened inside the companies at that important time comes only from the 'orphan documents' they left behind. Like good Dickensian characters, these orphans have juicy stories to tell.

Hill and Knowlton's fingerprints

It has long been known that the PR firm Hill and Knowlton designed the response of the U.S. tobacco industry to the revelation of the deadliness of tobacco products. It turns out that the Canadian companies also used the services of that firm to develop their response to the health crisis. I believe that this trial is the first documentary evidence of their early involvement. 

August 2, 1962: Imperial Tobacco meets with Hill and Knowlton and the U.S. Tobacco Industry Research Committee to discuss the upcoming Surgeon General (Terry) report, and the response to the Royal Society Report in Canada. Hill and Knowlton promotes the idea of "plants, leaks and dissemination of information" by which they make personal contact with journalists to influence reporting. (Exhibit 547).

August 14, 1963: Imperial Tobacco decides to hire Hill and Knowlton to write its submission to the Minister of Health's conference on tobacco. The PR firm suggested using graphs that linked diagnostic techniques to lung cancer rates - and got authority to also write sections on "education, advertising, labelling, taxation, moderation and economics of the industry." (Exhibit 550)

Canadian tobacco firms
acting on H&K suggestions
for alternative explanations
for growing lung cancer
November 26, 1963: On behalf of the tobacco companies, John Keith of Imperial Tobacco presents his report to the Minister's Conference. Although a Canadian public relations firm managed the distribution of the report (Public and Industrial Relations, the agency which later managed the CTMC), the chapters of the report follow the outline suggested by Hill and Knowlton. (Exhibit 551C - English on Legacy) and includes the suggested graph on lung cancer diagnosis, suggesting that the increase in lung cancers is related to better diagnosis, not smoking.

Secret agreements

Earlier this year the plaintiffs had made public a 1962 agreement signed by the senior official of each tobacco company (Exhibit 154). In it, the companies had made a commitment to each other to not get into the numbers game, and to 'refrain from the use, direct or implied, of the words tar, nicotine or other smoke constituents that may have similar connotations."

This Friday, the orphan documents made public the back story to that secret deal.

October 9, 1962:
Imperial Tobacco notes with alarm that two of the other tobacco comanies are competing with each other about tar levels. It sees competition over tar branding as a threat to the industry. "We must avoid .. leaving an impression with the public that the tobacco industry considers tar a dangerous element to the health of a smoker."  Instead "we must do something to maintain public confidence in the tobacco industry [and] protect our interests now and for the future." (Exhibit 154K)

October 12, 1962:
The president of Imperial Tobacco, Ed Wood writes the CEO's of all the tobacco companies operating in Canada and circulates a proposed agreement amongst them to be quiet about tar and nicotine levels. "If our desire is to reassure the smoker, there is the real danger of misleading him into believing that we as manufacturers know that certain levels of tar and nicotine remove the alleged hazard of smoking." An agreement is needed, he says, to avoid government intervention. (Exhibit 154A) He circulates a draft agreement and accompanying materials (Exhibit 154B, 154C, 154E, 154F, 154 J, 154L, 154M, 154N)

October 24, 1962
Ed Wood is briefed for his upcoming meeting with other tobacco company CEOs. Imperial staff stress that "no publicity [be] given to the arrangement." (There is no evidence they ever followed through with the idea of informing the Minister of Health). (Exhibit 154G, 154H, 154I).

October 29, 1962
A meeting is held amongst the Canadian tobacco companies at the territorially-neutral Royal Montreal Golf Course. The agreement is signed (Exhibit 154). Later that same day, Ed Wood writes BAT's chairman about the agreement, and signals the extreme secrecy:  "I have agreed to qive absolutely no publicity to this policy - not even to our advertising agencies, so please also be guided accordingly." (Exhibit 154D)

Measuring carcinogens

Three years before the Royal Society Report, Imperial Tobacco Canada was testing the levels of benzpyrene in its cigarette smoke, and discussing them with BAT's head of science. (Exhibit 537)

A hearsay blog? Say it isn't so!

You can't be two places at once. For the first time (and hopefully the last) this report is based on trial transcripts and the notes of the very capable Pierre Croteau.

Back on September 17th.  The trial takes a scheduled break until September 17th, when former Imperial Tobacco librarian, Rita Ayoung will testify. After that point, the trial will turn to witnesses from JTI-Macdonald - beginning with its president, Mr. Michel Poirier.

To access trial documents linked to this site:

The documents are on the web-site maintained by the Plaintiff's lawyers. To access them, it is necessary to gain entry to the web-site. Fortunately, this is easy to do.

Step 1: Click on:

Step 2: Click on the blue bar on the splash-page "Acces direct a l'information/direct access to information" You will then be taken to the document data base.

Step 3: Return to this blog - and click on any links