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Pou Case About Tobacco Industry Lies

Pou Case About Tobacco Industry Lies

Public Health Association Director Dr Gay Keating says that the late Janice Pou's case against British American Tobacco (NZ) and W D & H O Wills was about making the tobacco industry pay for deaths caused by lies of the past.

The case bought by a now-deceased smoker against two tobacco companies caused much debate about personal responsibility versus the culpability of a company that sells a deadly product. Justice Graham Lang found yesterday that Janice Pou was well aware of the dangers to her health that smoking posed.

The children of Invercargill smoker Janice Pou sought compensation for their mother's death from lung cancer in 2002. The reigning view on talkback seemed to be that Mrs Pou made a personal decision to smoke, and should therefore have been prepared to accept the consequences.

Actually, this case was all about the past actions of the tobacco industry. When Mrs Pou started smoking, the tobacco industry knew something she didn't - it was selling a lethal and addictive product.

In fact, it has been more than 50 years since the industry realised it had a problem - smokers were getting sick and dying. Did it order an immediate product recall? No. Did it take out huge advertisements warning people with cigarettes and tobacco that they were in possession of a deadly product? No.

Instead, it hired a PR agency and spent millions convincing people that smoking was sporty, sexy and sophisticated. It gave reassurances about the safety of tobacco use.
In 1954 US tobacco manufacturers jointly published "A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers" in over 400 US newspapers.

The advertisement questioned research findings implicating smoking as a cause of cancer, promised consumers that their cigarettes were safe, and pledged to support impartial research to investigate allegations that smoking was harmful to human health.
About lung cancer it said "There is no proof that cigarette smoking is one of the causes... We believe the products we make are not injurious to health."

In New Zealand in the 1960s runner Peter Snell, coach Arthur Lydiard, cricketer Bert Sutcliffe and All Black Don Clarke traveled New Zealand with the Rothmans Sports Foundation to give talks and promote sport. The message was clear - how can tobacco be harmful if top athletes are working with tobacco companies?

And people like Janice Pou believed the lies. She spent her formative years surrounded by billboards showing glamorous, fit, sporty young things puffing away on Pall Mall Filters, Capstan Corks, Players, and Stirling Virginias.

Even the health warnings that finally appeared in 1974 - "Smoking may damage your health" - were about as frightening as a slap in the face with a wet bus ticket. They were easy to discount against a background of information from tobacco companies about the comparative safety of smoking filter or low-tar cigarettes.

The reality is quite different. Tobacco is the only consumer product that, when used as the manufacturer intends, kills half its users. This includes filter and low-tar cigarettes. More than 170,000 New Zealanders have died from tobacco use during the past 50 years. Why is it then that people are so reluctant to point the figure at the tobacco industry?

Janice Pou should have quit smoking, but she couldn't beat the addiction. However, this case was about a different decision, one made by the tobacco industry in the late 40s and early 50s upon discovering it was manufacturing and marketing a lethal product. That decision was to ignore the evidence and lie to the public - knowing that in so doing it would cause the deaths of millions of people. Janice Pou was just one of those people. But in taking action against British American Tobacco (NZ) and W D & H O Wills her family spoke for countless others.


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