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Back Door Deals & Smoke Filled Rooms – Tobacco CEO longs for the good ol’ days

Product Defect

Should we be disturbed that the CEO of the second leading cigarette maker in America hopes for a return to Big Tobacco’s “old days?”

Susan Cameron, CEO of Reynolds American – parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company – is obviously in a celebratory mood given her stewardship over Reynolds’ recent $25.8 billion acquisition of fellow cigarette-maker Lorillard Inc. (makers of Newport), which will strengthen RJR’s position behind Altria Group (parent of Philip Morris, makers of Marlboro and Marlboro Light) in the U.S. cigarette market.

But from recent quotes attributed to her, she also appears to be in quite a nostalgic mood.  And this country should be afraid when the head of a cigarette maker yearns for a return to the “old days before it all changed,” and feels no apparent restraint – or remorse – with publicly declaring that goal.

RJ Reynolds Fiefdom

Let’s consider some of the highlights from these “old days,” which included the secret agreement by the cigarette companies to lie to the public for nearly 50 years about its internal knowledge of the dangers of smoking:

  •  Intentionally targeting and attempting to get kids to start smoking. J. Reynolds executive Claude Teague, 1973: “Realistically, if our Company is to survive and prosper over the long term, we must get our share of the youth market.” Another example, R.J. Reynolds marketing department, 1973: “Many manufacturers have studied the 14-20 market in hopes of uncovering the secret of the instant popularity some brands enjoy … Creating a fad in this market can be a great bonanza.”
  •  Intentionally designing cigarettes to appeal to the “young smoker.” J. Reynolds executive Claude Teague, 1973: “Thus we need new brands designed to be particularly attractive to the young smoker.  We have looked, at some length, at what qualities and image a new brand aimed at the youth market should have.  1) Moderate level of nicotine … to insure slow absorption.”
  •  Having no problem destroying research files to win lawsuits. J. Reynolds legal department, 1969: “We do not foresee any difficulty in the event a decision is reached to remove certain reports from Research files.  Once it becomes clear that such action is necessary for the successful defense of our present and future suits, we will promptly remove all such reports from our files.”
  •  Using additives and ingredients to manipulate nicotine levels in cigarettes. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. executive, 1963: “Certainly the nicotine level of B&W cigarettes given in the above table was not obtained by accident … I think we can say even now that we can regulate, fairly precisely, that nicotine and sugar levels to almost any desired level management might require.”

At a minimum, it could take days if not weeks to detail all of the evil things that Big Tobacco did in these “old days” that Mrs. Cameron hopes are revived.  Numerous books have been published doing just that.  During some trials against the industry, notably the Engle class action in the late 1990s and Department of Justice lawsuit in the early 2000s, it took months of trial testimony to adequately convey just what the “old days” of Big Tobacco comprised.  And after this thorough detailing of the industries’ conduct in the 20th century, a fully informed jury and a fully informed Judge, respectively, found that Big Tobacco – among other violations of the law and, frankly morality – committed fraud (Engle) and devised and executed a scheme to defraud consumers and potential consumers (D.O.J.).

While Mrs. Cameron might hope for a return to her industries’ heyday, the rest of us should fear those “old days” in which the conduct of the cigarette companies has led to today’s death and disease from tobacco use.

According to the mind-numbing current statistics:

To put the last number in context of just how many sick people there are just in the United States because of smoking, there are 180 countries in the world that have total populations of less than 16 million people.

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