Millions of Internal British American Tobacco Documents Go Public

Eight million documents that reveal price-fixing and concealment of product-risk information by British American Tobacco (BAT) will soon be public information worldwide, the Independent reported May 28.

BAT sells cigarettes in 180 countries. A 1998 court ruling in Minnesota required the company to provide public access to its internal documents. Now, after four years of copying and scanning documents for Internet viewing, the information is publicly available.

The documents archived through the Guildford Archiving Project involved researchers from London, New York, and San Francisco. The internal documents reportedly reveal BAT’s involvement in smuggling and price-fixing, as well as the tactics the company used to hide the heath risks of its products from consumers.

Researchers said some of the documents have been tampered with or removed. For instance, an audiotape suggesting that BAT market a “cheap cigarette” to “dirt poor little black farmers” was allegedly erased. One document that proposed marketing to “illiterate low-income 16-year-olds” was changed to include the less controversial age of 18, researchers said, adding that about 181 files containing 36,000 documents are missing.

The available documents cover the span from the early 1900s, when the company was first formed, up to 1995. “The documents have proved vital to revealing the underhand tactics used by BAT to sell its cigarettes around the world and to undermine public-health efforts to reduce their devastating health impact,” said researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who have led the operation to copy and scan the documents for online viewing.

The independent document website will be run by the University of California. It is expected to be operational in September.