Public Release: 

Big tobacco is watching

NB: Please note that if you are outside North America, the embargo for LANCET press material is 0001 hours UK Time Friday 28 May 2004


Leading public-health scientists writing in this week's issue of THE LANCET are calling for changes in the management of British American Tobacco's (BATs) UK information depository. This follows a detailed investigation which has highlighted how public access to industry records has been hampered by tight surveillance and inadequate search facilities at the depository in Guildford, UK.

The 1998 State of Minnesota legal settlement with the tobacco industry required BAT to provide public access to the 8 million pages housed in its document depository located near Guildford, UK, and to any company documents sent to the Minnesota depository. While the Minnesota depository is managed by an independent third party, BAT's Guildford depository is run by the company itself. The authors comment how, 'starkly different from the Minnesota depository, at the Guildford depository it is extraordinarily more difficult to access, search, and obtain requested documents'.

Lead author Richard D Hurt from the Mayo Clinic comments: "BAT's approach to running the depository, in our view, amounts to concealing what is supposed to be public information contained in the Guildford depository. Newly produced BAT documents from subsequent litigation, dating from 1996 to 2001 disclose the company's efforts to gather intelligence on visitors and their work. We believe that BAT has acted to make access to information more difficult by delaying document production requested by public visitors and refusing to supply requested documents in an electronic format despite, in the company's own words, the establishment of "big time imaging" capabilities at the Guildford depository. During testimony in 2000, BAT Chairman Martin Broughton stated to the UK House of Commons Health Select Committee that the scanning and subsequent placement of the Guildford collection online "would be an extreme effort for absolutely no purpose whatsoever", stating that "there is no indication to me that serious researchers are showing any interest in the papers . . .". New documents show that not only did the company recognise the importance of research undertaken by visitors, but also invested substantial resources and undertook numerous scanning projects during that time".

Dr Hurt adds: "The vulnerability of this important resource is demonstrated by the decreased number of files listed on the electronic database and the inadvertent deletion of an audio tape housed at the depository. With regard to intelligence gathering, BAT's law firm reported to BAT on the daily activities of depository visitors to BAT. Despite assurances to the contrary, these depository visitor reports show that BAT apparently tracked the database searches of a visitor. The company also tracked the physical movement of visitors and, in at least one instance, observed and noted the personal mobile phone use of a visitor. These activities raise ethical issues about BAT and/or its solicitors observing the work of lawyers and researchers representing health and government bodies. Given this new evidence, we assert that BAT is incapable of operating its depository in the spirit of the Minnesota settlement and should, therefore, be divorced from its operation. Accordingly, we recommend that the company provide its entire document collection electronically to interested parties thus allowing greater access to the public-health community as has been done in the USA".

In an accompanying Commentary (p 1746), Jeff Collin, Kelley Lee, and Anna B Gilmore from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine accuse BAT of operating the Guildford Depository as a 'hostile archive, providing minimum compliance with the letter of the Minnesota agreement while disregarding its intent.'

Lancet 2004; 3631746; 1812-19

Contact: (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) Lindsay Wright, Press Office, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK;
T) 44-207-927-2073;
M) 44-794-129-4885;

(Mayo Clinic) Mary Lawson, Press Officer,
E) or
John Murphy, Press Officer

(University of California, San Francisco) Wallace Ravven, UCSF News Services; T) 415-502-1332 or 415-476-2557


Lancet 2004; 363: 1820-24

Cigarettes are the major cause of lung cancer in Japan, and lung cancer accounts for more deaths in Japan than any other cancer. In a second article about the tobacco industry in this week's issue of THE LANCET, Kaori Iida and Robert N Proctor comment how the country's leading manufacturer, Japan Tobacco, two thirds of which is owned by the Japanese government, continues to question whether tobacco is a major cause of disease and death. They state: 'Japanese courts do not have the power to subpoena a company's internal records, which has made it difficult to document Japan Tobacco's strategies concerning tobacco and health. Our interpretation of online archives of internal documents from American tobacco companies, however, is that Japan Tobacco has long known about the potential health risks involved in smoking and has sought to obstruct effective tobacco control. Beginning in the mid-1980s, these efforts were often co-ordinated with American tobacco manufacturers. The documentary evidence shows that cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris in particular assisted with and sometimes also supervised Japan Tobacco's actions and statements on smoking and health'.

Contact: Professor Robert N Proctor, Pennsylvania State University, Department of History, Weaver 312,
University Park, PA 16802, USA;
T) 814-863-8943;

PRESS CONFERENCE - THURSDAY 27 MAY, 12-2.00 (London time), London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (Room 4), Keppel Street, London WC1E 7XH, UK;
T) 44-207-927-2073 or 44-794-129-4885;

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