Tobacco firms united to contest health risks-study
LONDON, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Seven of the world's leading tobacco firms cooperated for more than two decades in denying the health risks of smoking and designed strategies to reassure smokers, according to a study published on Friday.
Secret tobacco industry documents revealed that top firms launched ``Operation Berkshire'', a plan that contested the causal link between smoking and lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other illnesses.
Australian researchers said the documents, made public during U.S. court cases and now available on the Internet, show the industry was determined to protect its commercial interests at the expense of public health.
``Without question, the creation and promotion of this controversy, and the adoption of strategies implementing the conspiracy resulting from Operation Berkshire, have greatly retarded tobacco control measures throughout the world,'' said Neil Francey, a Sydney lawyer who examined the documents.
In a report published in The British Medical Journal, Francey and his colleague Simon Chapman said the operation launched at a secret meeting in a mansion in rural England led to the creation of the International Committee on Smoking Issues, which later became the International Tobacco Information Centre, that implemented the strategy.
Representatives of Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, British-American Tobacco PLC, Rothmans Inc, Reemtsma, Gallaher, and Imperial Tobacco attended the 1977 meeting.
INDUSTRY SPLIT OVER HEALTH RISKS
AG Garrett, the chairman of Imperial Tobacco at the time, proposed the secret 1977 meeting.
``The agenda for Operation Berkshire included determining areas for future cooperation in matters relating to smoking and health, discussing the feasibility of joint industry research into the benefits of smoking and mounting a programme of smoker reassurance to counter the increasing social unacceptability of smoking,'' the researchers said in the journal report.
A memo from the meeting by Helmut Gaisch, the Philip Morris Europe delegate, detailed a split between American and British industry scientists at the meeting and the industry's early acceptance of the health hazards.
``The reason was that the three representative of the British companies accepted that smoking was the direct cause of a number of diseases,'' the previously confidential memo was quoted saying.
The industry had denied any causal link for decades despite mounting medical and scientific evidence.
According to the research as far back as 40 years the industry had contemplated coming clean on the causal issue, a least for heavy smokers.
A representative of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association in Britain described the research as part of a witch hunt against the tobacco industry and its executives.
``Discussions obviously took place within companies as to the best way to counteract the anti-smoking propaganda that was perpetrated by international organisations and pressure bodies in trying to ensure that the correct facts were presented to their customers and their shareholders,'' John Carlisle told Reuters.
``We see nothing wrong in that.''