Monday, 9 September 2013

Day 163: The University of B.A.T.

Although Graham Albert Read comes after a long-line of other scientists to have testified at the Montreal tobacco trials, he is in a very different league than the others.

His 35-year career at BAT put him at the centre of some of the most controversial (one might even say notorious) aspects of that company's operations -  its research, its business plans, its relationship with governments.

(Type in variants of the name "Graham Albert Read" in the Legacy database of tobacco industry documents housed at the University of California San Francisco, and about 15,000 records will be returned from the files of British American Tobacco.)

Mr. Read started at BAT in 1976 as one of scores of "bench scientists," but he soon rose through the management ranks. By the time he retired in 2010, Mr. Reid held two of the company's top positions: Head of Global Strategic Research and member of the company's Board of Directors.

I am not sure what I would expect a head of global strategic research to look like, but Mr. Read certainly looks the part of a British business leader.

It isn't only his perfectly tailored suit that gives the impression of someone with decades of experience in executive class. He talks with the same posh accent as Britain's current political leaders. When he speaks, it is with the relaxed delivery of someone who is used to talking about important issues without fear of being interrupted. 

Mr. Read knows how to make his testimony sound like a presentation to investors.

No litigation novice.

Despite being three years into retirement, Mr. Read is a busy man. He told the court today that he continues to serve on BAT's Scientific Research Group, but he did not mention that he is also active on other trials. (In addition to the current cases, he was also identified during BAT's recent failed attempt to escape the Quebec government tobacco suit.)

He has already chalked up some experience in North American courts. He was interviewed (deposed) in 1997 during the landmark Minnesota trial, and later testified as an expert witness for BAT at the Ironworkers and  Blue Cross cases. BAT also called him to testify at the Department of Justice trial presided by Justice Gladys Kessler.

A consistent message of responsible corporate action

The version of events presented by Mr. Read today is similar in many ways to the BAT version of events presented elsewhere. These similarities were easy to spot this morning after Deborah Glendinning, who led the examination of Mr. Read, made her first item of business a request for a BAT memorandum to a U.K. parliamentary committee to be tabled as evidence. (Exhibit 20230)

(Usually there have been attempts to fend off any references to parliamentary statements as "parliamentary privilege" but on this occasion no one seemed to want to raise the issue of whether such privilege could be extra-territorial!)

Indeed, Mr. Read kept close to the story line contained in the UK memorandum. He testified that BAT responded in the 1950s and 1960s to health concerns about smoking by providing "significant" donations to medical research, by working closely with government, and by building their own research base.

Mr. Read suggested a noble purpose to the activities of the UK Tobacco Manufacturers Scientific Committee (TMSC), the Tobacco Research Council (TRC), the Tobacco Advisory Council (TAC), and the Scientific Research Group (SRG). He made no reference to the conclusions of others who see these events as a plot to blunt the public health response to smoking, or who feel that true science was subordinated to legal concerns. (See, for example, the Cigarette Papers).

Ms. Glendinning gave Mr. Read many opportunities to share BAT's understanding of history. He explained that the research at Harrogate, and the extensive research on smoke chemistry were a desire by the company to "understand as much as anyone," and to "build as much knowledge as possible." When the industry collaboration on research was eventually wound down, he characterized it as a change in business needs and the natural end of a research program.

An extensive understanding of the relationship between BAT and ITL

Plaintiff lawer, Philippe Trudel, made several objections to questions that seemed to put Mr. Read in the role of expert witness. (A new language policy on the part of the plaintiffs seems to be emerging.  Mr. Trudel made his objections in French, even though ITL's front benches were occupied by the supposedly unilingual Ms. Glendinning and Ms. Roberts).

Despite theses objections, Mr. Read was allowed to be questioned on events that occurred well before his employment at BAT, and on events he was quite distant to at the time they happened.

He said that a 1969 exchange between the newly-appointed Paul Paré and the BAT CEO, Richard Dobson was an "extremely accurate record" of the "quasi independence and autonomy" of Imperial Tobacco in its relationship with its major shareholder. (Exhibits 2021020211).

Likewise, he was confident that the relationship between BAT and ITL science departments, as outlined in 1979 by Robert Gibb (Exhibit 20212), not only articulated the expectations of the Canadian branch plant but also suggested the high quality of service that was provided from the "University of BAT."  

Ms. Glendinning asked him to comment on the contretemps between BAT and Imperial Tobacco regarding Project EMN ("eliminate, modify, neutralize") and Project Day. He explained that BAT's scientific concerns in no way impeded the research from continuing in Canada. As Andrew Porter had done last week, he testified that Project Day had eventually been "integrated" into BAT's own workplan.

(Mr. Read gave a more detailed explanation of how Project Day worked. He said the tobacco is made into a slurry, into which enzymes which are similar to those in "washing powder" are introduced. These enzymes remove the proteins. After the enzymes are themselves removed from the tobacco substance, it is made into sheet tobacco suitable for combustible cigarettes).

Decades later - no "safer cigarette" on the market.

Mr. Read spoke glowingly of the commitment of BAT to research a safer product. "It has been a massive research effort. We have done the best that we can do - - and we continue to do so." But he made no claims that any reduced harm products were on the market.

He emphasized that there is still no test which can establish whether one cigarette is safer than another. He identified major flaws with all of the tests that BAT has used.

Mouse-skin painting?  "the wrong substance, the wrong animal, the wrong place."  

Inhalation tests on mammals? They failed to produce disease - except when conducted by scientists using flawed methodologies. (Several reports by BAT scientists documenting the tumourless results of their inhalation tests were put on record as exhibits 20213, 20214, 20215, 20216, 20217, 20218, 20219).

Ames tests in petri dishes? Well, they confused mutagenicity with carcinogenity.

Despite the lack of a meaningful test, Mr. Read had clearly come to a conclusion that BAT was capable of making tobaccos that were less harmful to smokers. These less harmful approaches included the tobacco produced as a result of Project Day, as well as the BALTEC tobacco substitute.

Towards the end of the day, Ms. Glendinning asked Mr. Read to "help the court understand why there isn’t, after all these years, [a safer product on the market]". Mr. Read described the reason as a "Catch 22."  BAT can make sure "the consumer gets less exposure," he said, but the FDA regulatory process impedes it being put on market.

Perhaps tomorrow Ms. Glendinning will allow her witness to explain that he really does understand that FDA authority does not extend to cigarettes sold in Quebec, and to square this explanation with the testimony from Mr. Porter last week that other tobacco modifications (lower TSNA) had been marketed in Canada without any regulatory pre-approval.

Mr. Read's testimony will continue for Tuesday and Wednesday this week. On Thursday, Gaeten Duplessis, a former ITL employee, will testify.