Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 384 - 399)




  384. Can I begin by welcoming our new Member, Stephen Hesford, to his first meeting. I wish you well in your work with the Committee. Can I also welcome our witnesses this morning. Gentlemen, we appreciate your co-operation with this inquiry and we also appreciate the efforts that you have made to submit your written evidence. I wonder if I could begin by asking you to briefly introduce yourselves to the Committee.
  (Mr David Davies) My name is David Davies. I am the Vice President of Philip Morris Europe.
  (Mr Broughton) My name is Martin Broughton. I am the Executive Chairman of British American Tobacco.
  (Mr Wilson) Good morning. My name is Peter Wilson. I am the Chairman of Gallaher Group plc. Until the end of last year I was the Chairman and the Chief Executive of Gallaher Group plc.
  (Mr Gareth Davis) I am Gareth Davis, Chief Executive of Imperial Tobacco.
  (Dr Gietz) My name is Axel Gietz. I am the Vice President of the Corporate Headquarters of JT International in Geneva in Switzerland.

  385. Can I begin by asking a fairly blunt question, which as a Yorkshire man I can usually get away with. A number of us visited the States recently and saw some archive material of colleagues of yours from the companies, some of which are here today, giving evidence before a US Congress Committee hearing on oath. What subsequently was proved was that the evidence they had given was a complete pack of lies. What I would say to you as an opening gambit is, obviously ,you are not on oath here today, but what guarantee do we have that the evidence that you will give us will not be proved to be of a similar nature to that we saw in the States?
  (Mr Broughton) I would like to answer the question and also beg your indulgence, I would like to make a short but, I believe, constructive opening submission with your permission, Chairman. Before seeking that permission let me answer the specific question. I would contest the characterisation you put on the "pack of lies"—

  386. Can I just qualify that. They were asked a specific question and they were on oath. There are colleagues here who also saw the archive material and they may want to substantiate what I say. They had their hands in the air taking the oath and they clearly lied. They were proved to have lied. It is generally accepted that they lied before that inquiry. My point to you is here we take people at their word when they come to this Committee, we hope we can take you at your word, but what guarantee have we got that we are not going to see a repeat of the exercise that happened with the tobacco companies in the States?
  (Mr Broughton) I am approaching this Committee as though I was on oath and working on the basis that anything I say is my opinion or the opinion of the company, the truth, and I would deem it to be the equivalent of perjury not to answer the questions accurately. I think you have access to our records, you have our submissions. I am not sure what form of guarantee you would like but I can assure you that everything that is said today will be assumed to be on oath.

  387. You wanted to make a brief statement, if you would keep it brief.
  (Mr Broughton) It will be brief. If I may?

  388. Please.

  (Mr Broughton) We begin this new millennium with the issues surrounding tobacco use having deteriorated into apparently endless argument and allegation between governments, public health authorities and tobacco companies with no clear way forward. Perhaps this inquiry provides an opportunity to look for that way forward, to start the new millennium with a positive approach. Perhaps we can use the millennium itself as an analogy. I could argue that technically we are still in the final year of the old millennium, still 12 months away from the new one, but why get bogged down in semantics? Let us just accept the popular understanding and enjoy the excitement of the new millennium and move on; similarly with tobacco. I do not want to waste this Committee's time debating semantics. British American Tobacco believes for decades has recognised that along with the pleasure of smoking comes real risks of serious diseases, lung cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease, for many people smoking it is difficult to quit. We accept, therefore, that in the most simple commonly understood sense smoking is a cause of serious diseases. It has been the working hypothesis for much of our research, it has been believed by smokers for decades, is the most appropriate viewpoint for consumers and public health authorities. People make many lifestyle choices about pleasurable risky products, including smoking. Let us be clear, smoking is very different from some other risky products, both legal ones like alcohol and illegal ones like illicit drugs. It does not intoxicate, it does not require ever increasing consumption to maintain its pleasure, it is not a short-term risk to health, it does not cause family violence and is not a destabilising risk to society. Today in the UK even though over a quarter of the adult population smokes there are more ex-smokers than smokers. Let us just accept for the sake of moving forward that the popular understanding today is that smoking is addictive. Nevertheless, our consumers are not fools nor helpless addicts, shareholders are not amoral, 100,000 employees are not villains, the shopkeepers selling cigarettes are not drug pushers. It is a legal business generating huge revenues for the governments. They are a legal product that form part of a lifestyle matrix balance of short-term pleasure against long-term risks depending entirely on each individual's choice. For the Committee, where do we go from here? I regret that there is a reluctance to work with tobacco companies. The term "big tobacco" is used by the anti-smoking lobby as a pejorative term; in fact big tobacco is responsible tobacco. The past co-operative efforts of Government and the industry have been productive. The principal Government product modification strategy producing lower tar cigarettes acceptable to consumers has been met by the industry. I put it to you that it is better to work with people who accept significant corporate responsibilities, as we do, who actually know the product and the science. We could all remain in stalemate arguing extremes, on the one hand laissez faire, on the other social engineering approach promoting the eradication of smoking. I suggest to you there are other choices. To use a popular phrase, we believe there is a third way. Governments, public health authorities, the UK tobacco industry should work together to ensure that only adults smoke, that the public are appropriately informed of the risks, that smokers are informed of the varying levels of risk and are therefore encouraged to smoke fewer cigarettes, to smoke lighter cigarettes, to quit smoking sooner, that the desires of non-smokers to avoid the annoyance of smoke can be accommodated and that the effort to both research and develop lower risk cigarettes and also communicate those developments to consumers be encouraged and supported unencumbered by opportunistic criticism.

  389. Mr Broughton, I do not want to curtail you but you understand that clearly we have got a lot of questions here and if all of your colleagues were to be as lengthy as you have been then we may be here all day just listening to statements. Most of what you have said so far as I can see reflects entirely what is in your written evidence which I know my colleagues will have read with great care. I saw several of them in the library this morning reading through, so they are familiar with what you have said. I would be grateful if you could curtail your remarks. Perhaps your colleagues may wish to respond to the initial question I put which is a fairly fundamental question about the track record of your industry as a whole in respect of questions that have been raised by politicians elsewhere. Mr Wilson, do you want to respond to that initial point?
  (Mr Wilson) I will do my utmost to answer your questions as openly and as honestly as I can. I endorse Mr Broughton's comments as if we were on oath. My knowledge may not be complete over everything that has happened in the tobacco industry in the last 50 years but I will do my utmost to answer openly and honestly the questions that you ask.

  390. Mr Davies, do you wish to respond?
  (Mr David Davies) Philip Morris acknowledges Chairman, that there are legitimate concerns with which this Committee is concerning itself that merit being addressed by this Committee. As we said in our submission, we believe that there is an opportunity to create a platform for co-operation, for dialogue in which we can work with this Committee to find sensible solutions. It is my intention in coming before this Committee, as it was when we made our submission, to seek to assist the Committee. It is that which motivates me. It is the desire to work with Government to find solutions to the issues that are legitimately of concern and that merit being addressed by Government.
  (Mr Gareth Davis) I think anything I would wish to say in terms of introduction is encapsulated in our submission anyway. Secondly, yes, I absolutely intend to tell the truth.
  (Dr Gietz) I totally agree. No opening statement from me. I will answer your questions truthfully and to the best of my knowledge.

  391. You all understand the concerns the Committee has over what happened in the States and what is happening in the States currently which is of direct relevance to what is happening in this country. Can I ask a second general question. As an industry in respect of the work that you do in your own companies, do you accept that you have a legal duty to produce as safe a product as you reasonably can and, if so, do you believe that you are actually doing this?
  (Mr Wilson) I speak for Gallaher. We understand and accept that there is a general agreement amongst most people today, particularly the medical and scientific community, that smoking can be dangerous and can cause a number of diseases. I am not going to begin to argue with that, I accept that. We have worked co-operatively with Government for many, many years in trying to solve the problems. We wish to continue to do that. At the moment our main thrust is to develop better and increasingly lower tar cigarettes as the route agreed and advocated and encouraged upon us by Government over many years in the past. Today that remains our strategy, to continue to develop better quality and lower tar cigarettes. To my knowledge no-one anywhere in the world has come up with an alternative better way forward.
  (Mr Broughton) The brief answer to your question is yes. I think we would like more co-operation from Government and public health authorities. In the last few years, contrary to history, it has been more difficult to get co-operation. I think with greater co-operation we could make more advances.
  (Mr David Davies) When some Members of this Committee visited with Philip Morris in Washington at the request of the Committee we had present one of our senior scientists and you will recall, Chairman, one of the issues we discussed then was the latest commercial attempt by Philip Morris to introduce a product which we believe does have the potential to offer benefits to the public. That, of course, is the Accord product which is referred to in our submission. The research that we have done in order to develop that product and the research that we have done in relation to the characteristics of the product have been presented to public health groups in a number of different venues. I think it is fair to say that what we have presented has been viewed as mostly encouraging. That represents the sorts of goals that we have had over the decades in relation to improving our products.

  392. So you all accept you have a legal duty to produce a safe product and you all accept that you are doing this.
  (Mr Broughton) To produce as safe a product as possible.

  393. As safe as possible. Can you be specific about what you mean. What you are saying is that smoking is always a risky business and, therefore, you cannot have a safe product.
  (Mr Broughton) Correct.

  394. There cannot be a safe way of smoking? Is that what you are saying Mr Broughton?
  (Mr Broughton) There is no safe way.
  (Mr Wilson) I would say that.

  395. Mr Wilson, you are quite clear on this categorically, there is no safe way of smoking?
  (Mr Wilson) To my knowledge as at today there is no safe cigarette.
  (Mr Broughton) Yes.

  396. Is that a general consensus amongst our witnesses? It is a very important point, that there is no safe cigarette. Is that generally agreed? Would you all respond on this point.
  (Mr David Davies) That is a view which has been stated by Philip Morris. I think it is fair to say that the industry is not capable of producing a product which the health community would regard as safe. It is Philip Morris's view that today there is no safe cigarette.

  397. It is Mr Broughton's view and it is Mr Wilson's view. There are other witnesses, is it also your view? Do you subscribe to that point?
  (Mr Gareth Davis) Chairman, I do not think that we can say that it is safe or it is unsafe. We are obviously aware of the public health debate.

  398. So you are not sure whether it is safe or unsafe?
  (Mr Gareth Davis) What I am saying is we do not know whether it is safe or unsafe.

  399. So you differ from your colleagues on this. They have made quite clear where they stand.
  (Mr Gareth Davis) I do not understand the full context or background to their judgments, but—

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