Background: In 1992, British American Tobacco had its Canadian affiliate, Imperial Tobacco Canada, destroy internal research documents that could expose the company to liability or embarrassment. Sixty of these destroyed documents were subsequently uncovered in British American Tobacco's files.
Methods: Legal counsel for Imperial Tobacco Canada provided a list of 60 destroyed documents to British American Tobacco. Information in this list was used to search for copies of the documents in British American Tobacco files released through court disclosure. We reviewed and summarized this information.
Results: Imperial Tobacco destroyed documents that included evidence from scientific reviews prepared by British American Tobacco's researchers, as well as 47 original research studies, 35 of which examined the biological activity and carcinogenicity of tobacco smoke. The documents also describe British American Tobacco research on cigarette modifications and toxic emissions, including the ways in which consumers adapted their smoking behaviour in response to these modifications. The documents also depict a comprehensive research program on the pharmacology of nicotine and the central role of nicotine in smoking behaviour. British American Tobacco scientists noted that ".. the present scale of the tobacco industry is largely dependent on the intensity and nature of the pharmacological action of nicotine," and that "... should nicotine become less attractive to smokers, the future of the tobacco industry would become less secure."
Interpretation: The scientific evidence contained in the documents destroyed by Imperial Tobacco demonstrates that British American Tobacco had collected evidence that cigarette smoke was carcinogenic and addictive. The evidence that Imperial Tobacco sought to destroy had important implications for government regulation of tobacco.