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Following an article I published in an Australian newspaper in April, I received a letter from Philip Morris Australia's spin king Thomas Dubois, scolding me for not drawing readers' attentions to the company's latest website position on disease causation and smoking. I replied: “Many of my colleagues understand the message on your website to mean that Philip Morris agrees with the fact that there is overwhelming consensus in the medical and scientific community that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases. However, we believe that this is no different to (for example) the backpacker serial killer Ivan Milat saying, with hand on his heart, that he agrees that there exists an overwhelming consensus of evidence that he killed seven young people. This of course does not preclude him continuing to say, `I am innocent of murder'. All he's doing is acknowledging that this consensus exists, just as PM is acknowledging the consensus about smoking and health among scientists.
“So, to cut to the chase, without recourse to the shelter provided by your company's frankly robotic `desire for a single, consistent public health message' (you're all told to put this in these sort of letters, right?) would you please answer “yes” or “no” to the following question: `Does Philip Morris agree that cigarettes manufactured and sold by Philip Morris cause lung cancer in many of those who smoke them?'”
Back came his reply: “In response to your e-mail dated May 2, our answer is as follows: `Yes, we agree that smoking cigarettes, including our brands, causes lung cancer and other serious diseases in smokers.'”
This seems to be yet another layer of the onion that has been removed from the game that British American Tobacco's Australian chairman in 1997 once described as “a charade”. So what does it mean? Philip Morris and all tobacco companies continue to dispute each and every litigant's claim on just that: that smoking their company's brands caused lung cancer or other serious diseases in a particular smoker. Yes, they agree smoking their brands can cause cancer in smokers . . .it's just that they've never found a single instance where they agreed that this ever occurred! Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.