Tobacco giants fight ‘smoking guns’

Plaintiffs say memos are ‘game-changers’

A Canadian tobacco company will be in Quebec Court of Appeal Friday in a bid to prevent damaging internal documents from being submitted during a class-action trial in which the province’s smokers are seeking $27 billion in damages from the industry.

Witnesses in the trial are being shown documents – referred to as “smoking guns” by the plaintiffs – that they received in the course of their work, but didn’t write and therefore can’t comment on, claims JTI-MacDonald’s motion seeking leave to appeal.

“The mere fact that a witness received a document does not prove anything,” the motion says.

“In particular, it does not say anything as to the truth of any statement contained therein.”

In their opening statement in March, lawyers for the plaintiffs said they had 296 “smoking guns” that would be “game-changers” in the trial. That comment, the motion contends, shows plaintiffs believe the documents contain evidence, rather than hearsay. Some authors of internal memos – top executives in the tobacco company – have died.

One such memo, made public at the trial Thursday, shows clearly that Imperial Tobacco’s vice-president of research was livid that the company was destroying internal documents about the health risks of smoking. In a 1994 memo, Patrick Dunn wrote that he didn’t support an agreement to destroy copies of documents and hand over the originals to the company’s major shareholder, British American Tobacco in England, in hopes they couldn’t be used in litigation in Canada.

According to the memo, Dunn wanted to maintain his professional standards and suggested the documents stay in the hands of the company’s lawyers, Ogilvy Renault.

“The punch line to all this bulls––t is I’m the one on the stand in the court, not the lawyers,” he wrote.

“He (company legal counsel Roger Ackman) does not listen and does not want to listen.”

A 1980 marketing document filed in court shows the industry considered anyone aged 10 or older as a potential smoker and predicted that by the year 2000, there would be 24 million smokers out of a total population of 28 million.

The trial is expected to last at least two years, involves about 2 million Quebec smokers and is the largest claim in Canadian history.

The plaintiffs allege the cigarette industry made and sold a product it knew was dangerous.

They allege the companies stirred up a scientific controversy about the effects of tobacco products, built a common front against revealing risks and hazards, and specifically targeted youth to buy tobacco products. The companies – Rothmans Benson & Hedges, JTI McDonald and Imperial – deny the allegations.


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