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Internal memo of Imperial tobacco speaks of harmful effects in 1980’s

An internal memo showing that Imperial Tobacco has known cigarettes to be deadly and addictive since the 1980s has been entered into evidence in Quebec’s $27 billion class-action lawsuit against Big Tobacco.

In the memo, Bob Bexon, Imperial Tobacco’s former director of Marketing Research and Development, admits that the only thing keeping tobacco companies in business is the addictiveness of cigarettes. “The only remaining ‘benefit’ of cigarette smoking is the psychological assist it provides in terms of stress reduction,” Bexon writes in the confidential memo. “If our product was not addictive we would not sell a single cigarette next week in spite of these positive psychological attributes.” “The crux of the problem is personal health,” Bexon writes. “Social unacceptability, passive smoking effects, price, aroma, after effects are all distant seconds to the key smoker’s concern that they are damaging their health — contributing to their own death. Death is not the entire problem,” Bexon goes on. “The key health issue is lung cancer. Fear of cancer as much as fear of mortality with its public perception of slow lingering painful etc. (sic) is a real problem.”

Bexon’s 10-page handwritten memo was sent as an update to senior management on “Project Viking,” an internal evaluation from 1986 to 1987 that sought to assess smokers’ health concerns. Imperial Tobacco lawyer Suzanne Côté had argued against the document being introduced as evidence on the grounds that it was not pertinent and based on hearsay.

This document strikes a major blow to Canada’s three tobacco industry giants — Imperial Tobacco Ltd.; Rothmans, Benson & Hedges; and JTI-Macdonald — who are on trial in Quebec Superior Court in the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history.

The suit is an amalgamation of two major class actions. The Cécilia Létourneau case was first filed in 1998. It is seeking $17.8 billion in damages on behalf of the 1.78 million smokers in Quebec considered to be clinically addicted to cigarettes. The Jean-Yves Blais case is seeking $9.45 billion in damages for the estimated 90,000 Quebec residents afflicted by emphysema or lung, larynx, or throat cancer.

All three tobacco companies on trial had publicly denied that smoking was addictive and dangerous until June 9, 2000, when Imperial Tobacco and JTI-Macdonald stunned a Senate committee that proposed raising taxes on cigarettes by agreeing to the tax hike and admitting their products were addictive and carcinogenic.

Bexon’s letter has now provided lawyers, politicians, and the public with evidence that Imperial Tobacco knew the truth about their products for well over a decade before coming clean in 2000. Côté pointed out that the public has known about the risks associated with smoking for a long time, and that smokers should therefore accept the consequences for the choices they make.

The complex trial is expected to last at least two years.

Australian films instructed to cut down on smoking scenes

Australian films receiving government assistance should cut down on depictions of actors smoking, parliament has been told.

Labor senator John Faulkner said the commonwealth provided generous tax incentives for film, television and other screen production in Australia, giving about $145 million in tax offsets to producers in 2010/11. “I believe it’s now time for the government to consider the introduction of conditions to be applied about the smoking content of any production before government funding is provided,” he told the Senate today. “It is also time to seriously investigate the application of such constraints to overseas productions filmed in Australia.”

Senator Faulkner said the government’s new plain-packaging law was another example of Labor targeting tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorship. All cigarettes and tobacco products will have to be sold in drab olive-brown packs from December. “We are setting a global precedent that has big tobacco shaking in its boots,” Senator Faulkner said.

Cut down on duty-free cigarettes

The federal budget handed down yesterday has cut the amount of cigarettes and tobacco that could be purchased duty-free. Under existing rules, inbound travellers aged over 18 are allowed to bring in 250 cigarettes or 250 grams of tobacco products tax-free. This will be cut to 50 cigarettes.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) chief executive Anne Jones said duty-free products undermined health goals. “It makes no sense for government to give tax breaks to the tobacco industry and its deadly addictive products,” Ms Jones said on Wednesday. “This is a win-win for government.”

She said the measure would raise extra $600 million over four years and end the “anachronistic concession” for Australia’s leading cause of death and disease. About 320 million duty-free cigarettes are sold in Australia each year, ASH says.

Hookahs could be more dangerous than cigarettes says WHO

The hookah has made a comeback in social space gracing plush joints in metros and rising in popularity among the young. But its return has sparked concern among cancer experts who say Indian youth are getting addicted to the hubble-bubble in the mistaken belief that it is a healthy alternative to cigarettes.

According to the Global Adults Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2009-10, India accounts for over seven million hookah users among a total of 274.9 million tobacco users. While tobacco is the leading cause of cancer deaths in India, experts say hookah smokers are prone to lung cancer, oral cancer, heart diseases and respiratory disorders.

“Over the last two years, hookahs have penetrated urban space and gained enormous popularity among youngsters. Without knowing the harmful effects, youth are addicted to the hookah because of a fashion quotient associated with it,” said Dhirendra N Sinha, regional advisor, Surveillance (Tobacco Control) at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Southeast Asia. “Making hookah smoking seem fashionable is an innovative approach of the tobacco industry to make the youth population addicted to tobacco,” Sinha told IANS.

“In cities, hookah parlours have become symbols of socio-economic prosperity. They are easily available and being at a hookah parlour looks cool to youngsters and urban rich,” PK Julka, professor of clinicaloncology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told IANS.

Hookah or waterpipe smoking uses a technique where specially-made tobacco is heated, and the smoke passes through water to be drawn through a mouthpiece. Experts say the tobacco in a hookah pipe is no less toxic, and the water in the hookah does not filter out the toxic ingredients in the tobacco smoke. “While we also get cancer patients from rural areas, the young hookah-related cancer patients coming to us have a myth. They think hookah is less harmful than cigarettes due to its water base,” informed Julka.

According to WHO, a hookah smoker may inhale as much smoke per session as a cigarette smoker would inhale from over 100 cigarettes. Sharing the same mouthpiece for smoking can also cause serious communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis, the global health body informs. Occasionally, hookah laced with alcohol or marijuana is also ordered.

“What we need is awareness and of course stricter norms,” said Bhawna Sirohi, head of medical oncology at Artemis hospital, Gurgaon

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