CBC finds 'smoking gun' in tobacco wars

Documents from inside the tobacco industry show the tobacco giants agreed on a united front 23 years ago to deny that smoking causes disease.

CBC News has obtained copies of the documents, which one authority calls "the smoking gun" in the war on tobacco.

In 1977, at a secret international summit near Bath, England, top tobacco company executives met at a secluded English manor called Shockerwick House.

The executives from British American Tobacco, Imperial, Philip Morris, Rothman's, RJ Reynolds agreed to deny that tobacco causes disease.

If governments said otherwise, the documents say, the tobacco executives pledged to "strenuously resist with all means at their disposal ... and in any advertising, claims ... that one cigarette is healthier or less harmful than another should be avoided..."

Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society says the documents are the "smoking gun" against the tobacco companies. Once they are seen by judges and jurors, Cunningham says people will get very angry because the tobacco companies repeatedly have denied they were involved in any conspiracy.

Jon Ferguson, a Seattle lawyer who worked on the landmark 1998 settlement that has the tobacco companies paying $240 billion US to state governments, calls the Shockerwick documents "the birth of a global tobacco conspiracy."

As a result of the Shockerwick File, British Columbia citing only one case is expected to launch a new lawsuit against tobacco companies. Other provinces are expected to follow.