ASH news release 31/05/2005 – McTear vs Imperial Tobacco

Tuesday 31 May 2005

ASH Scotland news release:  EMBARGO: Immediate   DATE: 31/05/05
McTear vs Imperial Tobacco: Decision Day for Historic Legal Case
One of Scotland’s longest running legal sagas ended today (31st May 2005), with Lord Nimmo Smith delivering his verdict in the McTear vs Imperial Tobacco case at Edinburgh’s Court of Session.  In his opinion he ruled that Imperial were not responsible for the death of Alfred McTear.
Today’s judgment is a disappointment for Margaret McTear, who sued Imperial Tobacco for £500,000 damages following the death of her husband Alfred McTear from lung cancer.  Mrs McTear felt that Imperial Tobacco knew that cigarettes kill and that they hid this knowledge from the general public for as long as they could, condemning thousands to an early and preventable death.  This case was the first action of its kind to have reached a supreme court anywhere in Europe.
In January 1993, Alfred McTear of Beith, North Ayrshire, a 60-a-day smoker who was dying from lung cancer, started legal action against Imperial Tobacco for failing to put warnings on its cigarette packets in the 1960s. He started smoking in 1964, seven years before health warnings appeared in 1971.  Following Mr McTear’s death in March 1993, aged 48, his widow Margaret took forward the legal action. Her law firm Ross Harper Murphy agreed to take the case on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis following the decision of the Legal Aid Board to refuse legal aid.
Imperial Tobacco did everything they could to stop this case getting to court.  In 1995 they demanded £2 million from Mrs McTear as security for the company’s defence expenses.  In April 1996 the request was dismissed at the Court of Session, nevertheless today marks the end of 12 exhaustive years of campaigning by Margaret McTear and her legal team.
Speaking outside the Court of Session in Edinburgh after the judgement had been delivered, Maureen Moore, Chief Executive of ASH Scotland said:
  “I’d like to pay tribute to Margaret McTear, for her to have held on for 12 years against Imperial Tobacco required determination and courage.  Imperial did everything they could to deny her a day in court.  Today’s ruling is a set back for those who want to see the tobacco industry held responsible for cigarette related deaths due to the fact that they failed to warn consumers about the dangers of their product. 
Nevertheless, we now have effective health warnings on cigarette packets and have ended tobacco advertising.  Far fewer people today smoke than in the time Mr McTear started, and many thousands of people as a result are spared the death that he suffered.  We are also now close to ending smoking in enclosed public places in Scotland.  Today’s ruling shows that in this country it is through building up legislation and regulations that we can effectively tackle the tobacco industry and their products.
Imperial Tobacco still denies there is a link between smoking and lung cancer.  Today we call on Imperial Tobacco to stop denying what the rest of the world accepts.  Imperial Tobacco must accept that smoking cigarettes causes cancer and continues to kill millions of people around the world.
Today is World No Tobacco Day, where we are urged to look at the impact that tobacco has across the world.  Imperial Tobacco argued in this case that the tobacco industry was not responsible for tobacco related deaths of those who took up smoking before the introduction of health warnings on their cigarette packets.  And yet today in the developing world, across Africa and Asia, there are 40 developing countries where there are no health warnings on cigarette packets.  Many other countries have weak warnings, which are frequently not even in the local language.  Even if Imperial were unaware of the health impacts of smoking in the 1960s, they certainly cannot claim to be so now.  Imperial Tobacco’s lack of a sense of sense of corporate responsibility is almost as deadly as the cigarettes they sell.”
Notes and links:

1.      The use of clear informative health warnings has been consistently opposed by the tobacco industry and there is evidence from tobacco industry documents that tobacco advertising has been knowingly used to recruit new and teenaged smokers.
2.      Smoking tobacco is the most efficient method of delivering a nicotine hit.  Smoking cigarettes is addictive, so much so that studies have shown that the tobacco industry earns approximately £30,000 from each new smoker.  If the tobacco industry recruits smokers at a young age their addiction is harder to quit and leads to an average nicotine habit that takes 25 years to break.
3.    Cancer Research UK states that smoking causes up to 90% of all cancer cases.  One in two long-term smokers will die as a result of their tobacco addiction.  Currently 13,000 people in Scotland die every year as a result of smoking tobacco
Contact: ASH Scotland Office: 0131 225 4725, Out of Office Hours:  Mobile: 07773 351878