Secret docs confirm tobacco giant kept smoking dangers from pregnant women

Thursday 30 April 1998

ASH/ Press releases/


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Press release30 April 1998 ASH
Action on Smoking
and Health


Secret documents confirm tobacco giant kept smoking dangers from pregnant women


Previously secret tobacco company documents from the 1970s – obtained by ASH andreported in today’s Guardian – confirm that British American Tobacco (BAT) consideredand then decided against telling pregnant women of the danger smoking posedto their unborn babies. This was despite the medical evidence gathered since the 1950sshowing that smoking caused harm to the baby.

The first BAT document, a discussion of policy options, shows that the companyconsidered a public stance that would “not encourage smoking: by children; bypregnant women; to excess”. However, a line is hand-drawn through the words “bypregnant women”. The second document shows the final policy document in whichpregnant women are omitted from the short list of smoking activities BAT would discourage.This document was a strategy document sent to company heads worldwide. ASH believes thatBAT – the world’s second largest tobacco multinational – decided against any warningaction to protect itself from litigation. By effectively acknowledging that pregnant womenare at risk from smoking, the company would have had to answer the following questions:

  • Does BAT accept that smoking is harmful to pregnant women and their babies?
  • What causes the harm and what are the harmful effects?
  • When did BAT first know this?
  • When would a reasonable company have recognised the dangers?
  • What did the company do to warn or discourage pregnant women from smoking (official pregnancy warnings did not appear until 1986)?
  • What does the company do today in its world-wide markets
  • Was the company negligent and do those harmed have a legal case for damages?

Rather than face these questions, the company tried to bury the issue.

“BAT has a legal duty to make its product as safe as possible. BAT’s decisionnot to discourage women from smoking when all the evidence pointed to the dangers of lowbirth weight and other complications suggests it has been negligent and that it isvulnerable to litigation by anyone that has been harmed as a result.” said CliveBates, Director of ASH.

“At BAT’s AGM tomorrow (Friday), there are some tough questions to answersuch as ‘does the company still consider pregnant women to be fair game?’ or‘what is the company’s policy now, especially in those ‘emergingmarkets’ where there are no warnings and women offer the greatest market growthpotential?’. The questions deserve to be asked, but I suspect the answers will be theusual evasions, bluster or silence” said Bates, “it will probably take legalaction to get to the truth.”



Contact Clive Bates, Director (020) 7739 5902
Amanda Sandford, Communications Director (020) 7739 5902

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