News Releases

Chronology of Tobacco Industry Document Release

May 1994

Merrill Williams, a paralegal working for solicitors for Brown & Williams Tobacco company leaks 4,000 pages of BAT documents to government lawyers and to a university professor.

August 1994 Minnesota sues tobacco companies. This is the second of what would become lawsuits by all U.S. state attorneys general.
June 1995 University of Southern California at San Francisco places the Brown & Williamson documents leaked by Merrill Williams on its web-site.

Minnesota trial judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick issues orders to establish document depository in Minneapolist that will eventually hold more than 26 million pages of internal papers from tobacco companies. A similar depository is established in Guildford, England, for BAT’s documents.

June 1997 B.C. Minister of Health Joy MacPhail introduces legislation to enable law-suit against tobacco industry. B.C. is the first province to express interest in suing tobacco companies. (June 16)

Other state attorneys general reach proposed U.S. $368 billion settlement with the industry, but Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III opposes it as a sweetheart deal for the industry; the deal later collapses in Congress. (June 20)

September 1997 Minnesota trial official (the ‘special master’) finds that the cigarette makers used the protection of lawyer-client confidentiality to shield wrongdoing and recommends release of 834 secret documents.
November 1997 B.C. Minister of Health Joy MacPhail announces B.C.’s three-pronged strategy on tobacco before an audience of tobacco specialists from across Canada at a luncheon hosted by Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. Her speech and accompanying press release define the strategy:

"To expose the truth about the dangers of tobacco and the behavior of the industry in marketing this addictive product at children;

To pursue justice by holding the tobacco industry accountable for the damage it has done hiding the true dangers of tobacco and targeting children as tobacco consumers; and

To improve public health through real change in tobacco products and the behavior of the industry." (Nov 24, 1997)

December 1997 Chair of the U.S. Congress Committee on Commerce, Tom Bliley, subpoenas documents from the companies involved in the Minnesota case. (December 4)

Minnesota trial Judge Fitzpatrick fines Brown & Williamson $100,000 for failure to turn documents. (December 31)

January 1998 B.C. Ministry of Health appoints law firm Bull, Housser and Tupper and Thomas Berger as its legal agents in its litigation against Canadian tobacco companies. (January 6)

U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman releases a handful of RJR documents showing that this company targeted its marketing towards under-age smokers (January 14)

Minnesota becomes first state to reject a pre-trial settlement, and to take its lawsuit to a jury. State opens its case with focus on industry documents. (January 26)

February 1998 Hundreds of internal documents from the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. are released by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on legal protection for the tobacco industry. (February 5)

Joy MacPhail becomes Minister of Finance. Penny Priddy becomes Minister of Health. (February 18)

Tobacco companies begin to make documents available on a variety of web-sites, and open the Minnesota depository to the public. U.S.-based company documents begin to become accessible through the internet. The Guildford depository is not open, nor are its documents posted on the web. (February 20)

March 1998 Minnesota trial judge ordered the disclosure of 39,000 confidential tobacco-industry documents, ruling that attorney-client privilege was used to shield research about children as young as 5. In revoking the shield of attorney confidentiality, Fitzpatrick said cigarette makers and their trade groups ``committed numerous abuses of privilege and certain violations of court orders and the rules of court.'' (March 7)
April 1998 After a series of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Fitzpatrick’s ruling that attorney-client privilege was not properly applied to tobacco industry documents

U.S. Settlement talks, stalled for months, are declared dead by tobacco companies. RJ Reynolds, Philip Morris, U.S. Tobacco and Brown & Williamson walk away. (April 8)

Congressional committee on Commerce posts 39,000 documents (not indexed) on its web-site. (April 22, 1998)

May 1998 On the day of closing arguments for its lawyers, Minnesota settles with the tobacco companies. A condition of the settlement is a commitment to keeping documents available for a 10 year period in depositories in Minnesota (for U.S.-based companies) and England (for BAT documents). (May 8)
November 1998 B.C. files suit against Canadian Tobacco companies (November 12)

B.C. Strategy document is redrafted. The goal of "exposing…." Is changed to "change the behaviour of the tobacco industry with regard to the marketing of tobacco products."

Attorneys general of 46 states and 5 territories sign agreement with tobacco companies to settle lawsuits. (November 23)

March 1999 Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) send the first research team to BAT’s depository of documents in Guildford. Approximately 500 of the 45,000 files are reviewed – and 6,000 pages relevant to Canada are copied.
April 1999 Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada opens a new web-site to make available all the documents it received from the Guildford depository (www.tobaccopapers.org) (April 28, 1999)

A team of B.C. government lawyers and public servants visit Guildford for two weeks.

May 1999 A team of Health Canada lawyers and public servants visit Guildford for one week. They review 1,200 files and order 10,000 pages copied.
June 1999 British Columbia officials travel to Washington D.C. to inform document researchers (from government, universities and non-governmental organizations) that all the documents received from British Columbia will be made public.
October 1999 British Columbia and Health Canada make plans to jointly release all documentation in Ottawa. Two days before the scheduled release, organizers are informed that the B.C. Minister of Health is ill and the event must be indefinitely postponed. Questions to B.C. officials about a re-scheduled date for document release are not answered.

B.C. lawyers return to Guildford for a second two-week visit.

November 1999 Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada applies under Access to Information Act (ATI) and Freedom of Information Act (FOI) for documentation from Health Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Health. (November 1)

Health Canada releases most of its documents (not indexed) on a web-site (http://www.cctc.ca/ncth/guildford). (November 22)

B.C. Ministry of Health informs PSC that it will not respect the usual 30-day reply on FOI requests in order to consult with other deparatments (November 30). Reply now due December 31st.

Health Canada lawyers and officials return to Guildford depository for a one-week visit.

December 1999 B.C. Ministry of Health informs PSC that it has been granted an additional 30 delay on replying by the B.C. Commissioner for Freedom of Information (December 30). Reply now due January 30, 2000.

Government of Canada launches suit against RJR-Nabisco for loss of excise tax revenues resulting from smuggling.

January 2000 PSC writes the office of Premier Dan Millar office to request investigation of pending refusal to release documents
February 2000 PSC is informed that the B.C. Ministry of Health refuses to release Guildford documentation, claiming they are "solicitor-client" privileged.

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