ASH calls on BAT shareholders to abandon the sinking ship



Pamela Furness, chief executive of ASH, will today attend the Annual General Meeting of multi-national tobacco company BAT Industries to urge its shareholders to disinvest from a company which is being battered by criminal and civil lawsuits.

Brown & Williamson, a BAT subsidiary, is among the tobacco companies that have been bombarded by litigation cases throughout the United States. Ex-senior staff at BAT have alleged that company executives knew about the addictive qualities of nicotine despite public declarations to the contrary. Currently,seven States are trying to reclaim expenses incurred in caring for poor people with tobacco related illnesses which has led to one tobacco company, Liggett Group, agreeing to settle.

In addition, criminal proceedings are being brought by the US Justice Department with investigations being held in several US states.In Hong Kong, BAT is facing allegations of bribery in the colony’s largest smuggling case.The case has already attracted controversy following the murder of the prime prosecution witness.

Pamela Furness warned, “The tobacco industry, BAT included, has misled its consumers about the harmful effects of tobacco in the past, and it is just as likely to hoodwink its shareholders over the soaring cost of defending itself in litigation cases. Already one tobacco company has been forced to capitulate.”

“Be warned – the Liggett episode is a useful model of damage limitation that BAT shareholders would be wise to explore.”

“If BAT blindly continues to hold out against the rising number of lawsuits around the world then shareholders are advised to abandon the sinking ship!”

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  • The BAT AGM is at 11:30 am at the QEII Conference Centre, Westminster, SW1. ASH owns one share in the company.
  • Papers, now in the public domain, from BAT in the UK and America show how the tobacco company conducted research into tobacco and how it devised sophisticated legal and public relations strategies to avoid liability for the diseases induced by tobacco use. (JAMA, July 1995; vol 274)
  • Philip Morris has revealed in its annual filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it currently faces 125 lawsuits in the US alone regarding tobacco or health related claims. Liggett Group, the fifth largest tobacco company in the US has settled some of the tobacco liability cases. It is estimated that the company has spent $10 million on law fees – the company made $11 million in profit in 1994.