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Newly Disclosed Tobacco Industry Statements in Federal Lawsuit Show Continued Deception About Harms of Tobacco Products

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Vice President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
September 17, 2002

Washington, DC — The big tobacco companies have been waging an expensive public relations aimed at convincing the public and policy makers that they have changed and now tell the truth about the harm caused by their products. However, newly disclosed statements submitted by the five largest tobacco companies in the federal government's tobacco lawsuit show the tobacco companies' change is only skin-deep and they continue to engage in the same old doublespeak about their harmful products and practices. The statements were disclosed in a report issued today by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA).

Congressman Waxman's report finds that four of five major tobacco companies still question whether smoking causes disease; all five deny that secondhand smoke causes disease in non-smokers; and four of five fail to admit that nicotine is addictive. In addition, Philip Morris continues to deny it has control over nicotine, R.J. Reynolds – which launched the infamous Joe Camel campaign – continues to deny it has marketed to children, and British American Tobacco (BAT) continues to deny destroying documents to prevent them from being discovered in lawsuits against the company.

These latest industry statements show how little the tobacco companies have really changed since their executives went before Congressman Waxman's committee in 1994 and denied under oath that smoking causes cancer and other serious diseases or that nicotine is addictive. The industry's continued duplicity underscores the importance of the U.S. Department of Justice aggressively pursuing the federal tobacco lawsuit, which has the potential to bring about fundamental change in the industry's harmful practices. It is also critical that the Administration and Congress fully fund the lawsuit. It is clear that the tobacco companies will not change unless they are forced to.

One of the most troubling statements is BAT's denial that it has destroyed documents. This statement contradicts both the findings of an Australian judge in a recent lawsuit against BAT and sworn testimony in the federal tobacco lawsuit by a former BAT general counsel and consultant that one of the purposes of the company's 'document retention policy' was to prevent documents from being used in litigation. The Australian judge issued a summary judgment against BAT in that case after finding that the company's Australian subsidiary destroyed thousands of documents in an effort to prevent and win lawsuits.

In 1994, the tobacco companies refused to tell the truth even when testifying under oath before Congress. In 2002, they continue to refuse to tell the truth even in company statements made under penalty of sanction in a court of law. Is this what they mean by change?

(Congressman Waxman's report can be viewed at the website of the minority office of the House Committee on Government Affairs: