Key Issues

in Contraband Tobacco

Background on the Philip Morris paper trail

  • On May 23, 1994, the State of Mississippi became the first jurisdiction in the United States to file a civil lawsuit against the tobacco industry for recovery of health costs. This started a trend that eventually forced the American industry to negotiate settlements with all 50 U.S. states.
  • In the negotiations, the State of Minnesota held out for full public disclosure of formerly confidential industry documents that the tobacco companies had been required to provide to the courts as part of the discovery process. This led to a Minnesota court order on May 8, 1998, providing for a special depository in Minnesota where members of the public would be able to come and consult these discovery documents. In the case of UK-based British-American Tobacco, which controls Brown & Williamson, the No. 3 U.S. firm, the court ordered that BAT discovery documents could be made available to the public via a depository in England (the Guildford depository, which is the source of recent revelations about Imperial Tobacco of Canada).
  • At the same time, U.S. Congress was debating measures to force full public disclosure of industry documents. The U.S. tobacco firms decided to forestall such moves by announcing that they would make discovery documents widely available through special websites on the Internet. (However, no such website was created for the Guildford depository.)
  • Since Rothmans International B.V. has no significant tobacco manufacturing interests in the United States, it was not sued by U.S. state attorneys-general, and was never subject to a disclosure order. Thus, documents from Rothmans and RBH are available from document depositories only if they were sent to Philip Morris (a minority shareholder) or to some other U.S. tobacco company.
  • On the Philip Morris document site (, documents are posted both as images and as Adobe PDF files (which require the free Acrobat Reader program to open). For downloading convenience, copies of these PDF files are available via the NSRA website (
  • An example of the type of information that Philip Morris provides for each document is provided below. It is possible to search for nearby page numbers, for other documents written by the same person, for documents written on the same date, etc.

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