Thursday, 15 November 2012

Day 84: Colonel Mustard in the Parlour with the Maryland Extract

Some people can read detective mystery novels without skipping to the end to find out "who dunnit" before enjoying the unveiling of the plot line.

Not being one of that tribe, I have been impatient  over the past few months with the many clues dropped by Philippe Trudel and his colleagues about the addition of flavourants or nicotine to Canadian cigarettes. Why would they ask virtually every witness at the Montreal tobacco trials to validate the common understanding that Canadian cigarettes, unlike their US counterparts, were 'additive-free'? Why give them all the opportunity to boast that while there may have been experiments with nicotine-fortified cigarettes, such products were never put on the marketplace?

These questions were leading somewhere, but as far as I knew, it was a dead end. The prevailing view has been that the nicotine levels in Canadian cigarettes were controlled through the selection of tobaccos and by the way the cigarette was designed to burn.

The mystery began to be revealed on Thursday when Mr. Pierre LeBlond was invited back to finish a testimony begun at the end of August. He is a chemical engineer who worked at Imperial Tobacco for almost 30 years and was once custodian of the company's top secret code book of flavours.

True to the mystery genre, the plot was revealed in a conversation that took place before the entire cast of characters - or at least those that remained after the federal government was airlifted out of the trial by the Court of Appeal the day before.

It may not have looked like an Agatha Christie drawing room, but it sure felt like one.

The case of the nicotine extract

Philippe Trudel began by exposing flaws in Mr. Leblond's previous testimony. In August, he had denied that he knew why phosphates or citrates were used in cigarette papers and did not know what pH of smoke was - an amazing gap in knowledge for someone with a 30 year career in cigarette design. Asked similar questions again Thursday, he suddenly did know the answer to these questions. Well, well, well. Nicely softened up.

Mr. Trudel then began a line of questions that has been asked of no other witness. He wanted to know about the physical layout of the Montreal factory where both fine-cut and tailor made cigarettes were manufactured.

How was the waste product collected in the Montreal factory? (It was sucked out through pneumatic piping throughout the factories)

What happened to the waste product? (It was sent off to be manufactured into reconstituted tobacco).

How much of this reconstituted tobacco made from waste tobacco was used in cigarettes? (oops! Mr. Leblond "stood corrected." His previous statement that it was only 3-5% was contradicted by evidence that it was twice as high). 

Mr. Trudel then began introducing documents whose secrets will likely never be fully revealed to the public, except through the admissions of Mr. Leblond. These are the "secret recipes" of Imperial Tobacco cigarettes that are on the court record, but protected behind confidential and redacted status. 

What was this LAC tobacco used in Players Special Blend? (Maryland tobacco)

Was Maryland tobacco treated with casing? (Mr. Leblond didn't think so, until shown a 1994 document - Exhibit 995CONF - that "refreshed his memory" that it had been. Oops! another 'memory lapse' exposed).

What was this "Maryland Extract" that was added to Players Special Blend? (An additive with a secret formula.)

And what about the measurement that Mr. Leblond made in 1994 (Exhibit 998) "to find out how much nicotine is added to Player's Special Blend?"  when Maryland Extract was added to the recipe. Well that looked pretty conclusive that Maryland Extract was used to increase the nicotine content of that brand of cigarettes.

With the evidence of Mr. Leblond's assessment of the addition of nicotine in his hand, Mr. Trudel asked the witness to confirm that "The nicotine content was increased by approximately 1.5% -  right?"
"I would answer yes."

And as for the amount of additional nicotine that was left on tobacco when nicotine-denatured alcohol had evaporated away? (Mr. Leblond had once calculated that 3.3% was left on the tobacco in the form of nicotine salts.)

Players Special Blend -
fortified with nicotine extract,
but not with pure nicotine
And yet ...Imperial Tobacco had issued a press release (Exhibit 40017) only a few weeks after the calculation that "Imperial Tobacco does not add nicotine to any of its products to enhance their nicotine levels. The nicotine content of cigarettes and fine cut tobacco products is exclusively determined by the blends
of tobacco in the product."

Pierre Leblond explained that this seeming contradiction was  explained by the distinction between 'natural' and  'chemical' nicotine.
"So your proposition is when you add nicotine extract you don't add nicotine?" 
"Yes."  Well, what was he going to say -- 'It's a fair cop?'

And as for the tobacco waste that is sucked up and turnedinto processed leaf (PCL) that eventually makes up to 10% of all cigarettes, it would seem that all the waste is mixed together, including that from the parts of the plant that use additives and casings. No separate categories for additive-free PCL.

The mystery solved through a smouldering Maryland Extract, a spent denatured alcohol and a PCL footprint, the court adjourned for lunch.

Not a smoking gun?! Not a spent bullet!? .... 

I was not eye-witness to the afternoon session, but the record shows a plot twist, as Deborah Glendinning, who represents Imperial Tobacco in this case, used her cross examination to ask Mr. Leblond to agree that the calculations he made in 1994 (Exhibit 998) contained errors. The first was that Maryland Extract - a liquid - was "simply more tobacco, in a different form, that's being added as a flavourant." The second was that there was a decimal-point error in the 1.45% calculation, and that the figure should was actually one hundred times smaller.

Justice Riordan appears to have not agreed with her math, but he gave the witness an opportunity to say that the value was the "total amount" of nicotine in the cigarette, not the amount added. "So it looks like there are two mistakes in that document," concluded Mr. Leblond.

Watch for more plot twists in this continuing saga....

Gone but not forgotten

The Court of Appeal ruling that the federal government is not a co-defendant in the case has not apparently stopped the tobacco companies from bringing the government back into the case. In her cross-examination during the brief appearance of Rita Ayoung, Ms. Suzanne Coté asked the former librarian to confirm a number of BAT restricted reports that had been provided to Agriculture Canada and to scientists working with the federal government on tobacco agronomy. 

On Monday, the trial will hear from Mr. John Barnett, who is the current president of Rothmans, Benson and Hedges. He is the last of the three company executives to testify. Later in the week, the trial is also expected to hear from Mr. David Sweanor, formerly with the Non Smokers' Rights Association.