BAT memo 'discussed revealing health risks'

An American subsidiary of British American Tobacco discussed coming clean to the public about the health risks of smoking as a market strategy, according a 16-year-old internal company memo. Fear of lawsuits apparently quashed the proposal, writes David Usborne.

The memo, apparently circulated in 1980 among managers of TW Kidd, the maker of Lucky Strikes and Kool, has surfaced as evidence in a lawsuit filed by the state of Minnesota against tobacco companies. The discovery of the memo could be acutely embarrassing for BAT and all the cigarette firms.

"We will come to be judged alongside the liquor industry as being socially responsible, in that we acknowledge our products can be harmful in excess, and we show due care in warning against excess," the memo stated. It recommended admitting that smoking, combined with other factors, could cause lung cancer and other diseases.

Minnesota is one of 17 states suing the tobacco industry and attempting to win compensation for state money spent on treating smoking-related illnesses.

Lawyers for BAT said they would only respond in court.

Separately, a court in Miami last night scheduled the first class action case against cigarette makers to go to trial next June. The suit, on behalf of flight attendants claiming injury from inhaling passengers' smoke, has been brought against Philip Morris.