Big tobacco is watching

Leading public-health scientists writing in this week's issue of THE LANCET are calling for changes in the management of British American Tobacco's (BATs) UK information depository. This follows a detailed investigation which has highlighted how public access to industry records has been hampered by tight surveillance and inadequate search facilities at the depository in Guildford, UK.

The 1998 State of Minnesota legal settlement with the tobacco industry required BAT to provide public access to the 8 million pages housed in its document depository located near Guildford, UK, and to any company documents sent to the Minnesota depository. While the Minnesota depository is managed by an independent third party, BAT's Guildford depository is run by the company itself. The authors comment how, 'starkly different from the Minnesota depository, at the Guildford depository it is extraordinarily more difficult to access, search, and obtain requested documents'.

Lead author Richard D Hurt from the Mayo Clinic comments: "BAT's approach to running the depository, in our view, amounts to concealing what is supposed to be public information contained in the Guildford depository. Newly produced BAT documents from subsequent litigation, dating from 1996 to 2001 disclose the company's efforts to gather intelligence on visitors and their work. We believe that BAT has acted to make access to information more difficult by delaying document production requested by public visitors and refusing to supply requested documents in an electronic format despite, in the company's own words, the establishment of "big time imaging" capabilities at the Guildford depository. During testimony in 2000, BAT Chairman Martin Broughton stated to the UK House of Commons Health Select Committee that the scanning and subsequent placement of the Guildford collection online "would be an extreme effort for absolutely no purpose whatsoever", stating that "there is no indication to me that ser

Contact: Joe Santangelo

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