Monday, 29 October 2012

Day 77: Mr. Bulmer 34 years later

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

Gabrielle Gagné
There was a familiar face in a new role at the front of the room when the Montreal tobacco trial resumed this morning. Ms. Gabrielle Gagné, who works with the plaintiff's firm Lauzon, Bélanger Lespérance moved up from her usual position as the doyenne of documents and took responsibility for the examination of today's witness, Mr. Ron Bulmer.

I was again struck by the changes in the mood that accompany changes to the front bench. Ms. Gagne is likely the youngest lawyer in the courtroom (I think she was only called to the bar last year) and something that felt like paternal support seemed to surround her initial questions.

Even Mr. Potter kept his elbows in more than he usually does when defending his company's witnesses, and voiced his objections in a  non-disruptive way. Justice Riordan smoothly intervened on a few occasions when the witness wandered off course in response to uncomfortable questions. Ms. Gagné kept a steady and measured flow of questions to the witness. At the end of the day, with the court almost empty, Justice Riordan kindly told Ms. Gagné that she had "done a good job."

Ronald Williard Bulmer

Ron Bulmer in 1977
Ron Bulmer is a man who could be forgiven for having only a dim memory of events at Benson & Hedges more than 34 years ago, when he worked there as a marketer. But his recall seemed better than many other witnesses who have preceded him.

He would have been 29 years old when he joined the marketing department as a senior product manager in 1972. Over the next 6 years he was promoted to the position of vice-president of marketing.

Mr. Bulmer described his departure from Benson & Hedges in March 1978 as "part of the change" of removing both president and vice president of marketing. Mr. Broen, who was then president of the company, had testified that he was "relieved of his position" in 1978, but there has been no reason given for why both men were sent packing.

Although Mr. Bulmer has had nothing to do with the tobacco industry for more than three decades, he has not been isolated from the tragic consequences that can be caused by commercial activities that don't respond to scientific knowledge. After he left the tobacco business, he went to commercial fishing industry and was for a time president of the Fisheries Council of Canada.

Viscount and Ultralight cigarettes

Exhibit 891
The main focus of Mr. Bulmer's testimony today was the development and marketing of Canada's first free-standing low-tar cigarette brand, Viscount and Viscount ultra-light. A useful snapshot of the breadth of marketing of the brand is an 8 page brochure designed for cigarette distributors, (Exhibit 891) as is a later assembly of market research (Exhibit 896). These documents include information on the marketing team, cigarette ads, details on sponsorship and even repeats health information from the Tobacco Institute dismissing concerns about second hand smoke.

The sale of light cigarettes to respond to smokers' concerns about health was the subject of a dozen exhibits and showed the care with which marketing research segmented with respect to their health knowledge and concerns (Exhibit 895).

For these low-tar (low-taste) brands they considered flavour enhancers (Exhibit 892) , but Mr. Bulmer testified today that such additives were never finally used. The documents reveal the pressure the companies were under in their race-to-the-bottom of tar values (Exhibit 893), the intense effort that went into the descriptor 'mild' (Exhibit 897) and the colour used (Exhbit 894).

Complaining when health warnings are too large

When Imperial Tobacco launched the Medallion brand to compete with Viscount as a stand alone low-tar brand, Mr. Bulmer entered into a spitting match with his counterpoint at Imperial Tobacco, Mr. Anthony Kalhok over the use of the word "mildest". (Exhibits 50007 and 50008). Even the printing of the health warning and constituent information in a larger font size was cause for his concern. (Exhibit 898).

YOHD - Youth Oriented High Delivery

During Mr. Bulmer's time at Benson & Hedges, the marketing department sought to develop a brand to compete in the largest smoking segment (young males), aware that they were losing potential customers to Players Light and Export A. The company observed that every year there were 300,000 new smokers joining the market.

Several documents that were part of a youth market 1977 file were entered on the record (Exhibit 899899A899B899C) . Mr. Bulmer testified today that despite the attempts of some in the marketing department to move in this direction, the project never resulted in a new brand launch before he left the company the following year.

The mysterious participation at the College of Tobacco Knowledge

Two weeks ago, Mr. Broen had been asked about his attendance at a Tobacco Institute event (College of Tobacco Knowledge), but had denied attending despite being on the student roster and being profiled among participating students. Mr. Bulmer was similarly listed, and today Mr. Johnston tried again to confirm the presence of Benson and Hedges executives at this event. He was again unsuccessful. The names of three B&H executives (Mr. Broen, Mr. Bulmer and Mr. Leckie) are listed among those for whom hotel reservations had been made. Nonetheless,  Mr. Bulmer disavowed any knowledge of the event and said he had never gone. He was double certain: "I am quite sure myself, and I checked with my wife."

The companies didn't talk about health things

Mr. Bulmer's understanding of smoking seemed at times more old-fashioned that other witnesses. He is  reluctant to agree that smokers smoked for nicotine and not just 'taste', and still seems to believe that the machine values for tar and nicotine are reliable as indicators of actual exposure to tar or nicotine. Even the core issues of whether smoking was harmful seemed to have passed him by. ("In the 1970s we did not have evidence. We knew that cigarettes were a risky product. But we didn’t deal with evidence per se.")

At the very end of his testimony, Mr. Bulmer was asked by Mr. Johnson whether any consideration was given to health effects of cigarettes before he and his colleagues decided to market them. "You didn’t talk about health things?" Mr. Bulmer replied: "Not in the 70s."

But they sure did write about them

At the end of Mr. Bulmer's testimony their remained 45 minutes in the normal court day, during which time Gabrielle Gagne continued the work of placing "orphan" documents onto the court record. The documents filed today are only a handful of years before Mr. Bulmer's time at Benson & Hedges, and show the intense interest in health things within some quarters.

  • The invisible hand of Hill and Knowlton - Carl Thompson's spin on a health ministry review of the economic impact of smoking. Exhibit 900
  • Press release of a speech give by Paul Paré before National Association of Tobacco and Confectionery Distributors Exhibit 901
  • Tobacco Institute ad reprinting Advertising Age comment that health agency claims about health concerns with smoking are untruthful.  Exhibit 902 
  • Highly confidential material provided from BAT - a "strictly confidential document on what might be described as the tactical and commercial side of the Smoking and Health problem". Exhibit 903  9903A903B903C, 903D903E
  • Advice from Hill and Knowlton's Carl Thompson regarding an initial meeting between ministry of health officials and industry representatives.Exhibit 904905905A 
  • Memo from BAT to "No. 1s" enclosing a media presentation from Brown & Williamson, noting "The smoking and health situation in the U.K. differs from that in the U.S.A. in that, however skilled the presentation, the continued questioning by tobacco industry spokesmen of evidence which the majority of British doctors have accept as conclusive would be counterproductive." Exhibit 906906A,
  • Response of Paul Paré to question from the Financial Post on how he could reconcile his leadership in a harmful industry. "However, no proof has been found that tobacco smoking causes human disease. The results of the scientific research and investigation indicate that tobacco, especially the cigarette, has been unfairly made a scapegoat in recent. times for nearly every ill that can affect mankind." Exhibit 907
  • BAT has received a secret advanced copy of a new report of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons and sends analysis and information to its affiliates on how to spin the report. Exhibit 908908A908B908C
  • 1970 budget for the Ad-hoc committee (the precursor to the CTMC) Exhibit 909
  • 1970 brochure of the Tobacco Institute on "The Cigarette Controversy" Exhibit 910

Not without a struggle: will Legacy documents find their way to this trial?

At the beginning of this morning's proceedings, Simon Potter gave notice that he intended to present a motion to prevent authentication of documents by Kim Klausner, a witness from the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library at the University of California San Franciso. Ms. Klausner is currently scheduled  as the first witness after next week's break (she is expected to testify on November 12 and 13).

While Justice Riordan didn't seem too thrilled by the prospect of a formal motion and written arguments (ten minutes into the day he was already holding his head in his hands!), he did press the plaintiffs to explain the legal basis on which they thought the documents could be admitted into evidence.

That discussion is expected to be held tomorrow, although 'priority will be given to Mr. Broen.'  Mr. Broen is expected to finish his testimony tomorrow  . 

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.