Thursday, 27 September 2012

Day 63: Smooth Character

See note at the end of this post for information on accessing documents

Over the past few weeks, participants and onlookers to the Quebec tobacco class action suits have been introduced to some of the men who have presided over the manufacture of Export A cigarettes. 

The first two presidents were an autocratic father, Walter Stewart, and his hapless son, David. These men ran the family-owned Macdonald Tobacco Company until the early 1970s when it was purchased by RJR International. They were introduced posthumously, through a colourful memoir by a former employee, the 92 year old Peter Gage.

The third was the current president of JTI-Macdonald, and Regional president of the Americas for Japan Tobacco International, the very polished and carefully-spoken Mr. Michel Poirier, who testified only last week. (RJR International was acquired by JTI at the turn of this century).

Today the trial met a fourth president, one of the many executives rotated through the company while it was owned by RJR-International.

His name is Peter J. Hoult, and he worked at RJR-Macdonald for a total of seven years in the decade between 1979 and 1988. His tour of duty in Canada was a short part of a career that saw him work for other RJR companies in Geneva, in Hong Kong and in the United States, where he still lives.

This is not Mr. Hoult's first time testifying in a Montreal court. He was a witness during the tobacco industry's constitutional challenge to the Tobacco Products Control Act (C-51), and his testimony from those trials is available on the Legacy site.

After he left Canada,
Mr. Hoult oversaw RJR's
marketing of Joe Camel.
Mr. Hoult has not worked in the tobacco business for a number of years. He was forcibly retired in the after-burn of the take-over of the company immortalized in Barbarians at the Gate. Like the smooth character, Joe Camel, whose ad campaigns he once oversaw, Mr. Hoult is now a piece of tobacco marketing history.

By his looks alone, Mr. Holt would be easy to miss, with the nondescript appearance many prosperous men of his age (68). But he has a distinctive voice, with a melodious professional-class British accent that has endured more than 40 years in the new world.

"Let the witness answer the questions" 

Mr. Hoult uses his voice well - and at length. When Philippe Trudel, the plaintiff lawyer asking questions today, made attempts to shorten or refocus the answers, he was corrected by Justice Riordan. Was that the sound of yet another witness schedule flying out the window?

It's not tobacco that causes disease, it's less rigorous statistics. 

When asked about giving smokers more detailed warnings than those in the voluntary code, Mr. Hoult replied that since over 80% of smokers believed that smoking caused cancer, "any further message would have been redundant. ... what more could we do?"  He maintains that the science on smoking and disease is "by no means as black and white as certain advocates would state" and suggests that the widespread acceptance of causality may be because “statistics are a little less rigorous today.”

Science as a Public Relations

Mr. Hoult confirmed that the company had done no original research into the health effects of health implications of its products. Nor had it invested any more than a "derisory" amount in outside research in Canada. He pooh-poohed the scientific value of the research that was funded by the CTMC.

"If it wouldn't make any difference, why spend any money?" Mr. Trudel asked. Mr. Hoult rattled off the answers: "it was clearly expected, it wouldn’t do harm, we could afford it --  and it was possibly good PR." 

Do as the lawyers say and purge the records of references to youth

In the early afternoon, Mr. Trudel began to show the witness documents from his era at RJR-Macdonald. The first chronicle the efforts of Mr. Hoult to follow the directions of the RJR-International president based in Winston Salem and "purge our files of references to ages below 18 years." (Exhibit 656A656)  The enforcers on the policy were the company's lawyers, Sam Witt III in the U.S. and Guy-Paul Massicotte in Canada (Exhibit 656B).

But that doesn't mean you have to stop researching them

RJR-Macdonald nonetheless continued to receive information on "targeting teens." (Exhibit 657). They purchased custom reports on the same "Youth Target 1987" study that was presented earlier in the trial in the version commissioned by Imperial Tobacco (as exhibits 520-CRY27). The study in both iterations examined the attitudes, lifestyles and tobacco practices of Canadians aged 15 to 24.

[The court had seen previous testimony that Imperial Tobacco, as an original architect of the study, thought that Labatt's and Imperial, would retain "exclusivity in their respective industries" (Exhibit 292-87). It's not clear whether the two tobacco companies knew they were paying for near-identical "proprietory" research.]

Near identical studies on youth sold to
ITL (exhibit CRY-527) and RJRMI (Exhibit 658A)
It was about a month ago that the same study had been shown to Mr. Ed Ricard and plaintiff lawyer, Bruce Johnston, had made the compelling suggestion that Imperial Tobacco had also purged references to children under 18 from its research reports, but had continued to include data on younger age groups in their studies.

Mr. Hoult, likely unaware that he was effectively testifying against his one-time competitor, explained that adjusting numbers as Ed Ricard had said was done with the studies would be "enormously expensive" and would "fly in the face" of the omnibus approach.

His own company had put a new label ("Young Adults") on the report before circulating it internally. (Exhibit 658C)

Mr. Hoult's testimony will continue on Monday. My bet is that one more day won't be enough of this witness....

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.