Thursday, 25 October 2012

Day 76: Wise Decisions

See note on accessing documents at the end of this post.

It was another intense but pleasant day at the trial of the Quebec class action suits as Mary Trudelle, a former marketer and public relations director with RJR-Macdonald, finished her second day of testimony. The reduction in stress that happens when JTI-Macdonald's lawyers are at the helm of the defense was visible in many ways - the odd pleasantry, a bit of laughter all around and much less temple-rubbing by Justice Riordan. Less stressful, perhaps, but nonetheless one of the most intense days of testimony to date.

Ms. Trudelle continued to answer questions like a skilled public relations official, expertly reframing each question in her answers. By the end of the day the image of pearls came to mind -- unwanted truths were covered with layers of more attractive nacre. But she did not hesitate in providing answers and underneath the nacre was a lot of new information to the trial.

Justice Riordan: "I am astounded"

Mary Trudelle's involvement in RJR-Macdonald's development of youth prevention programs was one of the more memorable stories in this trial. Yesterday, Ms. Trudelle had been shown her correspondence with consultants working on a school-based program whose purpose she described today was to "guide them [students] through the thinking process, start to talk about it amongst themselves so they can start to digest the information and start to make their own decisions."  (The program was called Wise Decisions. - Exhibit 867, 867A867B)

At the beginning of the day, she was asked to further explain the edits she was requesting to the copy that was proposed to be sent to schools across Canada. She said that the edits came not only from her but from a panel of four "independent consultants who had experience in the educational field from a mixture of positions." She could name only one of them -- Glenna Carr -  more famous for her work in blurring the borders between private and public sector than education or health.

Plaintiff lawyer Philippe Trudel wanted to know why the proposed student guide mentioned nothing about cigarettes being addictive, and why the program was so insistent on the teacher not offering any factual information on tobacco use. Ms. Trudelle explained repeatedly that the purpose of the exercise was to get the students to "do the work themselves," "to seek out information", "to develop critical thinking skills" and to "form their own opinion". 

Justice Riordan very rarely responds to a witness' testimony. In what I think to be the longest comment to a witness at this trial, he did not keep the bewilderment out of his voice: "You are about the tenth witness to say that the industry couldn’t say anything – and now I see a company trying to insert itself into a school curriculum – what was the business plan behind this ?  I am astounded!'

Later in the day Bruce Johnston, in a short round of questions, returned to Wise Decisions project, and offered documentary clues as to the business plan that would justify the expense of going into Canadian schools and encouraging children to "make up their own minds" without teacher guidance. 

He began by pointing to work that had been commissioned by the CTMC into ways to improve the public view of tobacco companies. A year before Ms. Trudelle had offered her instructions to the project's authors, the public affairs firm the Strategic Counsel was focus testing ideas for youth programming.  The object of the research did not include determining how to prevent youth from smoking, but rather assess public reactions and identify concept(s) "that would enhance the image of the tobacco industry." (Exhibit 462462A)

Ms Trudelle acknowledged that a partial role for the project was to enhance the image of their company (this was not a CTMC project), but denied Mr. Johnston's suggestions that the purpose was to reinforce the "right to choose to smoke."  Nor would she accept the linking of the idea of a project she described as "designed to facilitate decision-making" to the concept of right to choose.

Mr. Johnston presented more documents that made that link between "wise decision" and "right to choose." In May 1996, Mr. Trudelle had received a report from Allan Gregg's Strategic Counsel on Communications Strategy to Enhance the Reputation of the Tobacco Industry. (Exhibit 775) Top of the list of suggested ideas was a program to prevent youth smoking.

Four-in-ten say their image of those who run tobacco companies would improve "significantly" if they saw tobacco companies doing something to prevent youth smoking. Among the various actions the tobacco industry could take to promote responsible decision-making, this type of action would clearly be the most effective.  This approach was proposed in the context that "The goal of the strategy is to reinforce the general public's right to choose."
Other snippets from the day
Another way to hide the fact you are researching youth.
Pollsters can't control who answers to phone, and so questions are used to screen out the wrong respondents to phone surveys. Mary Trudelle was shown a screener used by their pollsters, in which non-smokers were screened out in the first question. Using this approach, it is only after the respondant has said what brand they smoke and how long they have been smoking that the sixth question - the age of the respondent - is asked. That is to say, information on whether young people, how much they smoke, which brand they smoke and how long the have been smoking is collected. (Exhibit 869)

Putting your message out there.

Mary Trudelle had said yesterday that media measurements were used to ensure that there was no disproportionately young viewership of its promotional material. Mr. Trudel asked her how they knew this was the case when they advertised in metro stations, or on ski hills. (Their media plan noted that "in Quebec, RJR also had the opportunity to purchase advertising via Ski-View. This medium provides 34 panels on ski-lifts, during the skiing season, at leading ski centres throughout the province." - Exhibit 875880)

Which brand helps smokers quit? And why is this a problem?

In 1986, RJR-Macdonald's marketing department was looking at the different quitting rates of smokers of different brands. Two of their major brands, Export and Vantage, were seen as more vulnerable to smokers "leaving the market." (Exhibit 877)

Tough questions -- what were the answers again?

In preparation for Robert Parker's appearance on behalf of the CTMC at the parliamentary committee hearing on plain packaging, a rehearsal meeting was planned. Questions were drafted for all the CTMC witnesses. If nothing else, this document shows that the industry was aware of some of the vulnerabilities in their public messaging. (Exhibit 884)

10. You' re still evading the question. Is that because you lose no matter what your answer is - if you admit you know it is addictive, then you' re guilty of hiding that information from the public, and if you deny it you' re guilty of being stupid — of refusing to acknowledge something the whole world knows to be true? Isn't that what we' re really dealing with here?

Using colours to convey "strength"

As they prepared to introduce an "ultra light" variant of their Export A brand, RJR-Macdonald tested which of the colours silver, gold, or grey stripe best projected the image they were trying to seek. The grey stripe was judged "better for health/healthier than other cigarettes" and having  "less tar than regular" and was recommended for use. (Exhibit 885.) Three years later, they were again looking at package design. (Exhibit 886)

Next week, the plaintiff's case begins its home stretch of industry witnesses. On Monday, Ron Bulmer (formerly with Benson and Hedges) will testify. On Tuesday, John Broen will return. On Wednesday and Thursday, the former legal counsel for RJR-Macdonald, Guy Paul Massicotte will appear. 

After the break during the week of November 5-8, the remaining major industry witness will be the current president of Rothmans, Benson & Hedges (Mr. John Barnett), who is scheduled to testify on November 19-21. 

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.