British firm 'knew smoking caused cancer back in 1970'

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A BRITISH tobacco company knew as long ago as 1970 that evidence proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that smoking caused lung cancer.

Anti-smoking campaigners said that the document, the first one to be discovered regarding a British company, was highly significant for forthcoming litigation and would blow the arguments by tobacco companies "out of the water".

The document was prepared in April 1970 for the managing director of Gallahers, one of two tobacco companies in the UK now being sued by 50 smokers. Last month the case received a boost when judges ruled that lawyers fighting it on a conditional "no-win, no-fee" basis should not personally have to foot the estimated pounds 9m legal bill even if they lose.

In the document, the general manager of research analyses experiments on beagles for the managing director and concludes that the work "proves beyond all reasonable doubt the causation of lung cancer by smoke". He says that "the results of the research would appear to us to remove the controversy regarding the causation of human lung cancer [although] it does not help us directly with the problem of how to modify our cigarettes".

The analysis covered two different experiments: one where dogs were fed smoke through a tracheotomy, so that smoke was inhaled directly into the lungs and another where the dogs inhaled cigarette smoke through a mask. The analysis says that one of the striking features of the former was that "practically every dog which smoked suffered significantly from the effect of the smoke".

Martyn Day, solicitor with Leigh, Day and Co, which is representing the 50 plaintiffs against Gallahers and Imperial Tobacco, said: "It is the first time we've seen a document to show that British tobacco companies did in fact know that smoking causes damage, yet they have still never come out and accepted that position. There is no question that this document will play a very significant role in this case."

Clive Bates of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said: "What we've got here is a fairly serious document which will blow their arguments out of the water."

Last night, Gallahers declined to comment.

The release of the document comes days after a major report in Britain confirmed the link between passive smoking and lung cancer and urged the Government to curb smoking in public places and put a price premium on cigarettes.