Coughing up

Tobacco giant Philip Morris pays a record compensation to a smoker suffering from lung cancer

Published: Sunday 15 July 2001

tobacco giant Philip Morris has been ordered to pay a record fine for misleading consumers about tar levels in its products. A Los Angeles court directed the company to pay a compensation of over us $3 billion to a chain smoker suffering from lung cancer. In addition, Richard Boeken, the smoker, has been awarded us $ 5.54 million in compensatory damages to pay for medical bills, lost wages and suffering. The amount is the largest sum of compensation ever given in a smoking-related lawsuit.

The court dismissed the arguments of the company's lawyers that Boeken was responsible for his medical condition. The court criticised the company for "fraudulence, negligence and deliberately concealing the harmful affects of cigarettes." The court based its ruling on the secret documents of the company found by Stella Bialous and Derek Yach of the World Health Organisation. The documents reveal that the tobacco industry was giving out wrong information about the levels of tar and nicotine levels in its cigarettes -- they were said to be much lower than they really are. "Instead of bringing changes in their manufacturing process, the tobacco companies changed how they measure the tar and nicotine content to meet 1990 European Union standards," alleges Yach. He adds that the companies were able to do this because they effectively control the tobacco committee of the International Organisation for Standardisation ( iso ), which sets such tests.

A correspondence between two Philip Morris employees reveals more about their strategy: "The two regulatory organisations -- Cooperation Centre for Scientific Research Relative to Tobacco ( coresta ) and iso are controlled by the industry. The best way to work with these two organisations is to do all the technical work within coresta and then have it endorsed by iso. It is no secret that coresta is run by the tobacco industry. But even the iso committees, which should include representatives from governments, regulatory agencies and other parties, mainly comprises nearly everyone from the industry , " states the correspondence.

"Nearly eighty per cent of the iso members are from tobacco industry. I can't say we have much conflict with them," admits Franois Jacob, secretary general of coresta . "This lack of opposition means iso accepts, virtually without question, the standards suggested by coresta ," concedes Yach. "Tobacco companies have got the standards they wanted for years because of this," rues Bialous.

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