WA Tobacco Document Searching Project (WATDSP)
The WA Tobacco Document Searching Program commenced in September 2007 with funding from the Western Australian Health Promotion Foundation, Healthway, and concluded in September 2010. The program, under the direction of Professor Mike Daube, aimed to expose the past and present approach of the international tobacco companies and help develop strategies to counter their influence. The program had a focus on Australia and Western Australia in particular.
The Program aimed to reduce smoking and tobacco-related death and disease through a tobacco industry document searching program which incorporated both research activity and principles of advocacy. The Program was unique in WA as no other organisation in the state was active in document searching to the extent of this program.
Where did the documents come from?
In the 1990s, legal action in the US resulted in the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) which specified that millions of once confidential Tobacco Industry documents were to be made available to the public. The documents were retrieved from the US and international offices of seven major cigarette manufacturers and two associated organisations: Philip Morris Incorporated, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, British American Tobacco Industries, Lorillard Tobacco Company, the American Tobacco Company, the Liggett Group, the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research. The MSA further ordered all the documents discovered in trials up to 1999 to be made public, as well as any additional documents discovered in future trials up until 30 June 2010.
View “The Tobacco Industry Documents: What they are, what they tell us, and how to search them” for a detailed introduction on what the documents are and how they came to light.
What kind of documents are they?
A wide variety of documents were released through the legal discovery process; including memos, emails, research reports, letters, strategic plans, newspaper articles, budgets and industry publications. They were written by tobacco company executives and employees, industry scientists, consultants, lawyers; as well as affiliated organisations including advertising companies, law firms, public relations companies, and research laboratories.
How can we access the documents?
Most of the documents can be accessed electronically through the internet by searching databases set up by individual tobacco companies or tobacco control groups. Searching tobacco company sites is not always straightforward as many have made a concerted effort to complicate the searching process. Document searching manuals have been developed to assist researchers to search each database most effectively. A list of document databases and document searching manuals is available to download here.
Why are we interested in the documents?
The internal tobacco industry documents expose a hidden face of an industry known for being highly secretive, ruthless and strategic. Much has been learned from the documents already and we expect there is a lot more gold buried in amongst the documents. The WA Tobacco Document Searching Program was the first project to systematically search the documents for information relevant to tobacco control in Western Australia.
What can we get from the documents?
The documents provide us with a map of tobacco industry strategies used over the last few decades to promote their harmful products and obstruct tobacco control initiatives. The development of a clear understanding of tobacco industry thinking and strategies through tobacco document research can provide the key to the development of comprehensive tobacco control initiatives. Tobacco document research offers a valuable resource that can be used by public health advocates to build local support for and interest in tobacco control, as well as to counter tobacco industry influence in the present and future.
A list of media relating to WATDSP activities can be downloaded here.
A list of links to websites of key tobacco control organisations, tobacco industry document databases and information about tobacco industry document searching can be downloaded here.
Stafford J, Daube M, Franklin P. Second hand smoke in alfresco areas. Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2010; 21(2):99-105.
Bond L, Daube M, & Chikritzhs T. Selling addictions: Similarities in approaches between Big Tobacco and Big Booze. Australasian Medical Journal 2010; 3(6): 325-332.
Bond L, Daube M, Chikritzhs T. Access to confidential alcohol industry documents: from ‘big tobacco’ to ‘big booze’. Australasian Medical Journal. 2009; 1(3):1-26.
Daube M, Stafford J, Bond L. No need for nanny. Tobacco Control. 2008; 17:426-427
Bond, L., Daube, M., & Chikritzhs, T. Access to confidential alcohol industry documents: Alcohol industry concerns exposed. Public Health Association of Australia, WA State Conference, November 18-19, 2010, Perth, Western Australia.
Bond, L. & Daube, M. Tobacco industry attempts to thwart tobacco control in Australia. Asia Pacific Conference on Tobacco or Health, October 6-9, 2010, Sydney, New South Wales.
Daube, M. & Bond, L. Learnings for alcohol from tobacco. Second Annual Nova Scotia Alcohol Policy and Research Forum, May 7, 2010, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Bond, L. & Coombs, J. ‘An historic accident’: Exemption of nicotine in tobacco products as a poison. Western Australian Cancer Research Symposium, December 3, 2009, Perth, Western Australia.
Bond, L., Stafford, J. & Daube, M. Big Tobacco ‘Pull Out All Stops’ for a landmark example: the Burswood Casino case, Oceania Tobacco Control Conference, October 9th 2009, Darwin, Northern Territory.
Bond, L., Coombs, J., & Daube, M. Tobacco Industry Attempts to Thwart Health Promotion Initiatives for Tobacco Control in Australia. Australian Health Promotion Association, 18th Annual Conference, May 19, 2009, Perth, Western Australia.
Stafford, J., Bond, L., & Daube, M. Lessons from tobacco industry documents: past, present and future. Cancer Council Conference WA, October 23, 2008, Perth, Western Australia.
Bond, L., Daube, M., & Chikritzhs, T. Access to Internal Alcohol Industry Documents: Thank you Philip Morris. Population Health Congress, July 8, 2008, Brisbane, Queensland.
Stafford, J., Bond, L., & Daube, M. “We are still not yet out of the woods in W.A.”: Western Australia and the international tobacco industry. Perth: Curtin University of Technology; 2009.
Australian Council on Smoking and Health. Report on tobacco smoke concentrations in al fresco areas of cafes and pubs and in a car with a smoker; 2009.
Stafford, J. Bond, L. Van, V. & Daube, M. Tobacco Document Research Workshop. Western Australian Tobacco Document Searching Program Tobacco Document research workshop. July 16th 2010, Perth, Western Australia.
Van, V. Coombs, J. Bond, L. & Daube, M. Below the line: the tobacco industry and youth smoking. Smarter than Smoking Advisory Group meeting, February 25th 2010, Perth, Western Australia.
The WA Tobacco Document Searching Program (WATDSP) aimed to make key information from internal tobacco industry documents available to the public and policy makers in an effort to highlight the activities of the tobacco industry and contribute to the progress of tobacco control policy in WA.
WATDSP staff worked with other tobacco control and health organisations to support their work towards reducing tobacco caused death and disease. WATDSP also had a close working relationship with the Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA which provided valuable advocacy support.
Below you will find details of advocacy work the WATDSP was involved in.
Plain Tobacco Packaging
In a world first, on the 28th April, 2010, the Australian Federal Government announced the introduction of mandatory plain packaging of cigarettes and loose leaf tobacco to be enforced 1st July, 2012. A 25% tax increase was also announced, effective as of the 30 April, 2010.
Plain packaging was a key recommendation of the Government’s National Preventative Health Taskforce. The new laws will prohibit the use of tobacco industry logos, colours, brand imagery and promotional text on all packaging of tobacco products.
Plain packaging of tobacco products will help to:
- Limit the use of the pack as a promotional vehicle
- Increase the effectiveness of health warnings
- Reduce the deceptive potential of packaging
The WATDSP prepared a submission for the Community Affairs Legislation Committee Inquiry to support mandatory plain tobacco packaging.
Tobacco companies have fiercely and successfully resisted plain packaging implementation attempts in New Zealand (1989) and Canada (1994) arguing charter and trade agreement rights, lack of evidence, and increases in counterfeit or illegal tobacco. Past experience saw similar outcomes in Australia (1997).
The Tobacco Industry and Youth Smoking
Although there has been a decline in youth smoking prevalence in WA, it is important to continue with efforts that will help to further reduce smoking among young people.
The WATDSP conducted a comprehensive search of tobacco industry documents and found evidence of past and present efforts used by the tobacco industry to market tobacco products to youth. The tobacco industry continues to implement creative measures to target youth. In order to continue reducing smoking among young people (as well as in the broader community), it will be important to regulate current strategies employed by the tobacco industry, including:
- Cigarette packaging – implement “plain packaging”
- Regulate and end tobacco advertising and marketing through the internet
- End all forms of tobacco marketing, including public relations and lobbying
- Regulate to end branded and non-branded product placement in movies, on television and in computer games
- Regulate to ban brand association with fashion and music events
The WATDSP presented these research findings to the Smarter than Smoking Advisory Committee.
Tobacco Products Control Amendment Bill 2008
In November 2008, Independent MP Dr Janet Woollard introduced a Bill to WA Parliament which outlined a set of amendments to the Tobacco Products Control Act 2006. Amendments included:
- Smoke-free al fresco eating and drinking areas
- Smoke-free cars carrying children
- Smoke-free areas around children’s playgrounds and on patrolled public beaches
- Removal of retail displays of tobacco products.
The WATDSP, in partnership with the Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA (PHAIWA), prepared a submission to the Education and Health Standing Committee Inquiry into the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Bill 2008. Representatives of PHAIWA and the WATDSP were also invited to give evidence at the Committee Inquiry hearings. The submission, which formed the basis of evidence presented at the hearings, presented information from tobacco industry documents including arguments that the tobacco industry and their allies would be likely to make against the Bill. This Bill was passed through the Western Australian Parliament in September 2009.
Tobacco smoke in hospitality al fresco areas and cars
Between December 2008 and March 2009, ACOSH and WATDSP staff conducted tests of tobacco smoke concentrations in the al fresco areas of Perth cafes and pubs, and in a car when the driver was smoking. The test findings support an extension of smoke-free places to cover al fresco eating and drinking areas at cafes and pubs, and in cars carrying children, as outlined in the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Bill 2008.
A media release highlighting the key findings was sent to local media outlets and was picked up by newspapers and radio (see below). The research also received coverage in a Stateline WA television report about the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Bill 2008 which aired on 17 April 2009 (transcript available on the Stateline WA website). Members of Parliament were individually sent a letter outlining the key findings, along with a summary report of the research. Below you will find links to the media release, the letter to Members of Parliament and the resulting media coverage.