Bob Burton writes:
Should someone who worked for one of the world’s biggest tobacco companies be celebrated as a national role model?
Ms Quentin Bryce, the Australian Governor-General who acts as the representative of the Queen of England, apparently thinks so. To coincide with the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in early June, Bryce announced that Carla Zampatti had been made a Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia for “service through leadership and management roles in the fashion and retail property sectors, to multicultural broadcasting, and to women as a role model and mentor.”
Two others were also made companions, the most prestigious honorary titles bestowed on individuals. The awards, announced twice a year, are extensively publicised in the mainstream media.
Zampatti is best known as an Italian immigrant who created a name for herself as a fashion designer, building a successful boutique retail chain on her clothing designs. It’s an appealing “underdog makes good” story.
But the information used to support Zampatti’s honor clearly indicated that she had been a director of British American Tobacco Australasia (BATA), a wholly-owned subsidiary of British American Tobacco, for nearly three years. On its website, BATA boasts that it manufactures a total of over 18 billion cigarettes a year in plants in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Western Samoa for domestic consumption and for export to other countries in the Pacific region.
So did Zampatti’s service for one of the world’s most notorious tobacco companies count at all against her? And why did none of the media reports on her award even mention that she had been a director of a tobacco company?
Zampatti was elected as a director of BATA in August 1998 and served on the board until July 2001. These were dark days for the tobacco industry generally and BAT in particular. The film The Insider — which depicted the struggle between whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand and Brown & Williamson, a BAT subsidiary — was released in 1999. The year before, Brown & Williamson and other major U.S. tobacco companies had signed the Master Settlement Agreement to settle legal actions brought by the Attorneys General of 46 U.S. states. One of the provisions of the agreement was that companies must place millions of pages of internal documents on searchable, public websites.
The initial revelations from these industry papers were just spilling into the public domain when Zampatti joined the BATA board. It was also a time when BAT globally was desperately trying to portray itself as a corporate social responsibility leader while simultaneously opposing the negotiation of a binding international convention aimed at curbing increasing tobacco consumption.
At the time, Sydney Morning Herald journalist Mark Ragg noted that BATA had responded to the crisis by appointing as directors high profile personalities with close ties to the then dominant Liberal Party of Australia. (The Liberal Party is the approximate Australian equivalent of the Republican Party). The election of Zampatti to the BATA board, he wrote, provided “the double benefit of an insight into another industry plus further access to Liberals via her husband, the former MP and current ambassador to France, John Spender.” At the time, the chairman of the BATA board was Nick Greiner, the former Liberal Party Premier of New South Wales.
It is also notable that when she was elected to the BATA board, she was also a director of the publicly funded multicultural broadcaster, SBS. These days, she is “chairman” of the SBS board.
Back in 2007, Australian tobacco control advocate Simon Chapman noted in Crikey that Zampatti has “never made public apologies or explanatory statements for their well-paid box seat efforts to increase tobacco industry profitability.
Civil society expects those who are contrite about their past deeds to do four things: publicly admit their mistakes, promise to never do it again, try to make good the damage done and perform some public act of penance to symbolise their passage from the dark side … Anyone helping to hold the reins at a tobacco company since the 1960s has done so with their eyes wide open to the consequences of their efforts being successful.”
In the absence of any explanation or apology for her work aimed at making BATA more profitable from its deadly trade, Zampatti should not have landed an award from the Governor-General.
This article originally appeared at PR Watch. To read the rest go to their website.
Meanwhile, professor of public health at the University of Sydney Simon Chapman writes:
Sir Roden Cutler, former Governor of NSW (1966-81), was exemplary in all he did. His war service, personal bravery, leadership and common touch with ordinary people marked him in his biographer Colleen McCullough’s words as the most well remembered and greatly loved Governor in the state’s history.
Yet in 418 pages, her hagiography devotes just one sentence to a little known but significant aspect of Cutler’s life: his business dealings after retiring as Governor in 1981. In the same year, Cutler took up a directorship of tobacco giant Rothmans, remaining with the company until 1993. Twelve years was no casual term. It should have involved deep and abiding knowledge and support for a company and all it stands for.
During this time, Rothmans continued its efforts to confuse the public about smoking and health that it had first commenced in the 1950s after the first major studies on smoking and lung cancer were published. For decades, Rothmans joined with other tobacco companies in attacking each and every effort that its marketing analysts told them held the slightest potential to reduce tobacco consumption. Commencing in the 1960s and lasting well into the 1990s, individual companies and the industry funded Tobacco Institute brought out a cavalcade of tame scientists for media tours and elite-to-elite meetings.
Their job was described as a “smoker reassurance” strategy and with 53% of dedicated smokers in one study in 1992 agreeing that “most lung cancer is caused by air pollution, petrol fumes etc”, they did a disgustingly good job.
I have a tape from the period featuring the then head of the Tobacco Institute, John Dollisson, fielding talkback radio calls in Sydney. A desperately ill woman calls and says “I’ve been a smoker for many years and I have lung cancer …I have given it a lot of thought and I’m a highly nervous person … I have the cancer and I really and truly believe that I got it from stress and stress will give you cancer.”
Dollisson replies with chilling calm to a listening audience of hundreds of thousands “Let me say firstly that I’m sorry to hear that you have lung cancer. It’s good to see that you’ve taken an objective assessment as to why you have lung cancer and not believed the rhetoric that is being put around today.” Rothmans supported the Tobacco Institute.
Rothmans fought advertising bans and cigarette tax rises tooth and nail. It put special passion into attacking anything to do with passive smoking, knowing that restrictions reduced overall smoking volume more than anything else. It thought nothing of Pied Pipering youth by associating sporting excellence with smoking through the Rothmans Sports Foundation and the Winfield Cup. It called some of its carcinogenic products “mil” knowing that they were nothing of the sort, because smokers compensated by inhaling more deeply and smoking more.
Tobacco kills 15,000 Australians a year. Over a quarter of these die before reaching 65 — many more than die on the roads, of breast cancer or who suicide. It is inconceivable that as long term directors of Rothmans, Sir Roden Cutler or Carla Zampatti knew nothing of all this activity.
Nor could they be excused for being ignorant of what every major health and medical report on the subject published since the 1960s has said with increasing urgency: that smoking causes unprecedented death and disease. To my knowledge, they never resiled from any of Rothmans actions, and certainly made no public apology to the thousands of dead smokers’ families whose father, mother, or grandparent the company’s activities were designed to keep smoking during the years they helped steer the company.
Any defence that tobacco companies simply serviced the demands of their fully informed, risk taking customers for one of life’s little pleasures must account for the ethics of decades of deliberate strategy designed to erode and obfuscate that informed choice.
The highly developed and “commercial in confidence” science of nicotine chemistry, whereby ammonia and other chemicals were used to maximise the efficiency of nicotine’s addictiveness, also sits awkwardly with benign accounts that this was just another ordinary industry.
Anyone taking a job or the reins at a tobacco company since the 1960s has done so with their eyes wide open. Cutler and Zampatti’s political connections and their impeccable standing and reputation would have made then prized scalps for Rothmans which the company would have hoped would wash off on their embattled image. So by what values should we turn our otherwise respectful eyes away from their decision to buy into this?
Sir Roden Cutler and Carla Zampatti both made extraordinary contributions to Australian life. Only the most doctrinaire would have it that their feet of clay should now define their lives. But equally, a misplaced sense of reverence that hushes outrage about significant issues like the tobacco industry’s mendacity can serve no good purpose.