Imperial Tobacco’s behaviour despicable say ASH

Tuesday 11 November 2003

ASH news release:  Embargo: 00:01 Tuesday 11th November 2003


Imperial Tobacco’s behaviour despicable say ASH

ASH today launched an attack on the despicable behaviour of tobacco giant Imperial in dragging out its court case with Margaret McTear. The case against Imperial is likely to last 20 weeks as Imperial are insisting she prove smoking causes cancer, and today Chief Executive Gareth Davis is being called to account by Mrs McTear’s lawyers for this ludicrous defence.


Alf McTear died of lung cancer in 1993 when he was only 48 but before his death he started the £500,000 claim against Imperial tobacco to ‘hit back at the tobacco companies’ and alert young people to the dangers of smoking. After his death Mrs McTear took over the case in his memory.


Mrs McTear is facing a weekly bill of £650 just in court costs for the case, which started on October 7th  and is due to run for four months at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, by which time she will owe around £13,000[1].  In addition to this Mrs McTear, 57, who is a part time charity worker with no savings, also faces a bill of over £2 million if she loses the case, as Imperial have said they will come after her for their costs too.


Imperial Tobacco is dragging the case out by insisting that Mrs McTear’s lawyers prove that smoking causes lung cancer, a premise that Imperial has refused to accept despite all the evidence [2].


Deborah Arnott, Director of the health campaigning charity ASH, said:


“This is the first tobacco case to come to court in the UK. It’s a legal landmark. Mrs McTear has made history by winning the right to sue the tobacco giant. Imperial Tobacco have tried bullying tactics all along the line, first to prevent the case coming to court in the first place and now to drag it out for as long as possible. How dare this company still demand that anyone prove that cigarettes kill people? How dare they try to bully a widow out of a case by demanding promises of millions in costs?


These disgusting legal bullying tactics are typical of an industry that will try any trick to avoid liability for the hundreds of thousands of people who die from their products every year.”


In 2000, the House of Commons Health Select Committee held an inquiry into the Tobacco Industry [3]. The conduct of all of the main tobacco companies was criticised in the Committee’s report, but Imperial was singled out for special criticism. MPs were angered by the refusal of its Chief Executive, Gareth Davis, to admit that smoking caused serious diseases, and by the company’s refusal to make its internal documents public – a decision they described as “lamentable”.  The Committee also criticised him for his lack of co-operation, saying that “Mr Gareth Davis’s promise to co-operate with the Committee in what ways he could proved worthless.”


Evidence of the causal link between smoking and lung cancer was first discovered by the eminent scientist Sir Richard Doll, who also showed that half of all regular cigarette smokers are eventually killed by their habit [4].

Sir Richard Doll, who has appeared as an expert witness in the McTear case said:


“The attitude now taken by the company is inexcusable. To my personal knowledge they accepted the causal relationship forty years ago on the advice of their own statistician.”


Mrs McTear said:


“At the end of the day it’s not the money I’m interested in what I really want is for the company to admit smoking does cause lung cancer.”


Imperial tobacco was also heavily criticised in a Public Accounts Committee report in January this year for its failure to control tobacco smuggling. Committee Chairman Edward Leigh said, “Imperial tobacco’s apparent reluctance to help Customs tackle smuggling is highly unsatisfactory. They persisted in exporting large volumes to places like Andorra and Kaliningrad when they must have known that the cigarettes could not possibly be for those domestic markets. And when Customs asked legitimate questions about this activity Imperial’s approach was to fob them off.”[5]



Notes and links:

[1] Mrs McTear does not qualify for Legal Aid and unlike in England the Scottish courts have no power to waive the imposition of court dues. Her lawyers and expert witnesses are acting on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis.

[2] World Health Organisation. International agency for research on cancer: IARC monographs on the evaluation of the carcinogenic risk of chemicals to humans: Tobacco smoking. IARC, Lyon 1986: 421 (vol 38).

[3]Full report and evidence

[4] Doll R, Peto R, Wheatley K, Gray R, Sutherland I. Mortality in relation to smoking: 40 years’ observations on male British doctors. BMJ 1994; 309: 901-911[Abstract/Free Full Text].

[5] 10 January 2003


Contact: Deborah Arnott  020 7739 5902 (w) 079 7693 5987 (m) ISDN available