Friday, April 25, 2008

Is Big tobacco adding insult to injury

I can't say I was surprised to hear this morning that the Office of Fair Trading is investigating big tobacco over alleged price-fixing. But it was still a timely reminder to me.

If tobacco companies are found guilty of conspiracy it won't, of course, be the first time. The Michael Mann film The Insider about big tobacco's attempts to silence whistle-blower Dr Jeffrey Wigand famously fictionalises the scene in 1994 when the the so-called seven dwarves - the CEOs of the seven big tobacco companies - all testified before the US House of Representatives that they did not believe nicotine was addictive. Yeah, right. The subsequent release of big tobacco's internal documents suggested otherwise.

As regular readers will know, I've been under attack from pro-smokers citing the apparent lack of research proving passive smoking is dangerous as a reason for lifting the smoking ban. Some of them (with the emphasis on some) have sounded very reasonable. I've invited one of them to state his case on malehealth.

But this investigation reminds me of what we're really talking about: the power of big tobacco. This isn't about whether passive smoking is safe or not. This about selling ciggies. In a confidential 1978 report big-tobacco described passive smoking as 'the most dangerous development to the viability of the tobacco industry that has yet occurred'. How do we know? Because they had to release this document under the agreement they signed in 1998 to compensate US states for smoking related medical costs. Do you really believe anything has changed? I don't.

Clearly, if proven these charges suggest that as well as killing their customers, the tobacco industry are taking the piss while doing it. I don't like to use a cliché but never has the phrase 'adding insult to injury' been more apt.

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