M’yv’iew, In it would be best to be in a position to say in public what was believed in private. The association of cigarette smoking and some diseases is factual
The matter was brought on behalf of two classes of plaintiff – smokers who smoked at least 15 cigarettes a day for five years and contracted cancer as a result, as well as others who were addicted to nicotine.
Their lawyers argued the cigarette companies hid knowledge of the health risks of smoking, as well as its addictiveness, during the 48 years to 1998. BAT held a controlling stake in Imperial during this period.
The judge found Imperial’s internal experts knew about these risks at least as far back as April and May 1958, when three of its scientists toured North America seeking information from other experts on the extent to which it was accepted that cigarette smoke caused cancer.
This resulted in a 10-page report with the almost unanimous response that there was a link between smoking and cancer. But nobody in the Canadian industry said anything publicly, adopting a “policy of silence”.
In July 1972, BAT scientist SJ Green wrote an internal memo, urging the company to admit the link between smoking and disease.
“I believe it will not be possible indefinitely to maintain the rather hollow ‘we are not doctors’ stance. In my view, it would be best to be in a position to say in public what was believed in private. The association of cigarette smoking and some diseases is factual,” he wrote.
Company executives were also discussing the addictive effects of smoking by 1976 internally. One executive drew up a report for another, stating: “For some reason, tobacco adversaries have not, as yet, paid too much attention to the addictiveness of smoking. This could become a very serious issue if someone attacked us on this front. I think we should study this subject in depth, with a view towards developing products that would provide the same satisfaction as today’s cigarette without ‘enslaving’ consumers.”
But the company failed to issue warnings about its products, and only did so when presented with threats of legislation. The first health warning started appearing on cigarette packs in 1972. It read: “The department of national health and welfare advises that danger to health increases with amount smoked.”
The next one, in 1975, advised that “danger to health increases with amount smoked – avoid inhaling.”
“The remarkably naive admonition to avoid inhaling ... must have inspired either a hearty chuckle or a cynical shake of the head in most smokers,” said Riordan.
More specific warnings, such as “smoking reduces life expectancy” – started circulating in the late 1980s.
Addiction warnings only started circulating in 1994.
“It would have taken some time for that one message to circulate widely enough to have sufficient force,” said Riordan. “The impact of decades of silence and mixed messages is not halted on a dime.”
It was on this basis that the three companies were held responsible for knowingly failing to warn users about their products.