Senior tobacco executives are expected to be grilled about low-tar cigarettes when they appear before the Government’s health select committee this week.
Imperial Tobacco chief executive Gareth Davis, British American Tobacco chairman Martin Broughton and top executives from Gallaher – Philip Morris Europe and RJ Reynolds – are to be quizzed by the all-party committee.
The hearings aim to find out how much the tobacco companies knew about the risks of smoking, and could lead to legal proceedings against the industry.
Among the issues to be raised is the industry’s promotion of low-tar cigarettes which, according to the anti-smoking lobby, has misled smokers into believing some are safer than others.
Top executives from three advertising agencies with tobacco accounts – Mustoe Merriman, TBWA and M&C Saatchi – will also give evidence next week. They have been asked to submit three years’ worth of documents to the committee.
Nick Mustoe, chief executive of Mustoe Merriman Herring Levy, which handles Imperial Tobacco, says: “I shall be making the point that we should be allowed to advertise a legal product.”
The pressure group Action on Smoking & Health (ASH), one of the driving forces behind the investigation, wants the words “lite”, “mild” and “ultra” removed from cigarette packaging, as proposed last November by the European Commission.
ASH spokesman Clive Bates says: “These moves could spell the end for big names such as Marlboro Lights and Silk Cut Ultra.”