Tobacco Collections

British American Tobacco Records (BAT)


This collection contains documents related to the British American Tobacco Company (BATCo) and its parent, BAT Industries PLC. Formerly maintained in a separate digital library, the British American Tobacco Documents Archive, the BAT collection was integrated into the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents (formerly Legacy Tobacco Documents Library) in 2008.

Collection history

BAT's Guildford Depository

British American Tobacco Company, BAT (U.K. & Export) Limited, and B.A.T. Industries P.L.C., collectively known as BAT, were among the seven tobacco manufacturers that Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III, Minnesota Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota sued in 1994 to recover smoking-related medical costs. Of the several contemporaneous state Attorney General suits against the tobacco industry, Minnesota's was the most aggressive in forcing the tobacco companies to produce copies of their then secret internal correspondence and other records as part of the discovery process. When the case was settled in May 1998, Attorney General Humphrey insisted that "the truth be told" and the tobacco companies, for the first time, were required to make their documents public.

The Minnesota settlement forced BAT to put its documents in a depository located near Guildford, England, just outside of London. However, the settlement was vague on the precise terms of public access for the documents at the depository. As a result, unlike the U.S. tobacco companies, the responsibility for making the documents public was left entirely open to BAT's interpretation and BAT was allowed to directly manage and operate the depository.

The subsequent Master Settlement Agreement did not require BAT to post its documents on the Internet.

Access Problems at the Depository

BAT's management and operation of the Guildford Depository proved problematic even before the Depository opened to the public. Claiming that the collection needed to be reviewed further for privileged material, BAT delayed opening the Depository doors to visitors until February 1999 and did so only after persistent lobbying by Clive Bates, then Director of UK Action on Smoking and Health (UK ASH).

Once the Depository finally opened, public access to the documents was hindered considerably by BAT. Early visitors, including UK ASH and the World Health Organization's (WHO) Tobacco Free Initiative, began to complain about the difficult conditions of access.

Not only did BAT limit access to a single organization (comprising no more than six individuals) at any one time (later increased to two groups of six); the company also operated the depository only six hours per day. Additionally, visitors wanting access to the Guildford Depository had to book time through BAT's lawyers in advance and in one-week time slots, which resulted, at times, in a wait of up to five months for admission. (See Lee, et al., Looking Inside the Tobacco Industry)

If one successfully navigated the hurdles and gained entrance to the Depository, searching its contents presented new obstacles. The documents are indexed and searchable only by file rather than by document thereby making it impossible to search the Depository's database for individual documents. Copy machines were not available; therefore, visitors had to order photocopies of documents. Delivery of requested documents took anywhere from months to up to a year.

Newly produced BAT documents dating from the time the Depository opened its doors to the public confirmed that the company and its lawyers acted to impede access. BAT monitored the physical movement of visitors within the Depository, tracked visitors' telephone usage and, in one instance, internally reported on a visitor's electronic database searches. BAT refused requests for a copy of the database, the ability to print database records, and more timely delivery of photocopies. BAT also refused to supply requested documents in an electronic format despite, in the company's own words, the establishment of "big time imaging" capabilities at the Guildford Depository. Using the documents for research continued to be a slow and tortuous process.

Tobacco Control Advocates Surmount BAT Obstruction

Long-term tobacco control advocate Judith Watt submitted evidence of some of these problems to the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Health. Watt had also been informally coordinating efforts by health researchers to gain access to the Depository. Derek Yach, then project manager of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, also gave evidence on the problems at Guildford. Committee members investigated and reported on the unreasonable limited public access to BAT's Depository. In its report, the Committee recommended that BAT address these problems immediately. With the Guildford Depository set to close in early 2009, it was clear that the terms of access would effectively prevent systematic searching and use of the documents.

In July 1999, Stella Aguinaga Bialous, a WHO fellow, visited the Wellcome Trust in London to discuss the difficult conditions of access at the Guildford Depository. She also met with colleagues Kelley Lee, Anna Gilmore, Jeff Collin, and Karen Bissell at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who were preparing a research proposal for submission to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to analyze the Depository documents.

Given the extreme difficulty of accessing the Depository documents, several groups around the world began posting copies of documents on their Web sites to make them more broadly available. However, these small sets were widely scattered, not indexed in a consistent manner, and represented only a small proportion of the total Guildford Depository collection (around 5%), thus limiting the usefulness of this effort.

Recognizing the value of a centralized, consistently indexed archive, in late 1999 Celia White of the UCSF Library, working with Stanton Glantz, a professor at UCSF, began to contact groups around the world who had procured documents from the Guildford Depository with the idea of creating an integrated and professionally indexed collection at the UCSF Library. The resultant database, previously known as BATCo, included Guildford Depository documents provided by Health Canada, the British Columbia Ministry of Health,/a>, American Heart Association , the group also sought legal advice to clarify the precise terms of the Minnesota settlement and other issues concerning BAT's legal obligations in the U.K. and U.S. Doug Blanke, Martyn Day, Jon Ferguson, Cindy Jesson, and Eric LeGresley prepared the legal analysis.

The LSHTM submitted a formal proposal to the Wellcome Trust for £1 million and the funds were awarded in spring 2001. While not enough money to complete this massive project, the funds provided the resources necessary to proceed in earnest. All agreed that the work would be done quietly because of concern that BAT might further obstruct efforts to obtain copies of the material in the Depository.

In November 2001, Glantz sent UCSF researcher Jacquie Drope and tobacco control consultant LeGresley to Guildford, where they were joined by Melanie Batty from the LSHTM. Glantz instructed them to request as much material as they could as fast as they could without taking the time to choose individual documents. In one week, they asked for about 120,000 pages, compared to the typical requests of a couple thousand pages per week. No one knew if BAT would comply with such a large request.

LSHTM staff followed up the UCSF request with increasingly frequent visits to the Depository to accelerate the ordering rate. About half a million more pages were ordered during this time by Jeff Collin, Anna Gilmore, Sue Lawrence, Ross MacKenzie, and Preeti Patel. A shared database was developed to coordinate ordering and prevent duplication by different parties.

Plans Evolve for Digitization, Storage, and Public Access

However, large-scale ordering of documents could not continue until plans to digitize, index, and store the estimated 6-7 million pages were solidified. Detailed decisions were needed on image quality, search functionality, long-term storage, and web site design. To this end, Glantz worked with the UCSF Library to devise a system for indexing and searching the documents. The Library's John Kunze developed draft specifications for scanning and indexing the documents and built a prototype search engine for a sample collection. Building on Kunze's work, Kirsten Neilsen, Karen Butter, and Claude Devarenne later led the effort to process documents and design the search engine and web site for the collection.

In 2002, Richard Hurt and Monique Muggli at the Mayo Clinic joined what had become known as the Guildford Archiving Project (GAP) consortium. In the summer of 2002, large scale ordering accelerated, beginning with Mayo submitting an unprecedented request to BAT for over one million pages. UCSF's Ruth Malone and her research team visited Guildford in August 2002 and requested an additional 200,000 pages. From this point, the timeframe for receiving documents from BAT slowed significantly to almost a year from date requested.

At the end of 2002, the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute (FAMRI) awarded UCSF a grant of US$1 million to develop uniform procedures for processing documents, manage the flow of documents from consortium members and others, build software tools that search both indexing terms and full-text records, and provide resources to manage the search results. The same year Health Canada awarded LSHTM a grant to acquire and process documents. In 2003, Cancer Research UK provided the remaining funds to LSHTM needed to complete the project. In total the Consortium raised around £2 million (US$3.6 million).

Meanwhile, LSHTM staff proceeded to systematically order all remaining files from the Depository. Each of the more than 41,000 files needed to be ordered by completing a file request form by hand. This mammoth task, led by Nadja Doyle and Melanie Batty, was finally completed in February 2004. Despite the fact that BAT was by now taking at times more than a year to deliver documents, large batches of photocopied documents were being received in London, San Francisco, and at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Hundreds of boxes began to pile up while the Consortium finalized the specifications for processing the documents and undertook a tendering process to contract a suitable firm to scan and index the documents.

In 2004 the Mayo Clinic undertook the complementary task of obtaining approximately 1 million additional pages of BAT-related material housed at the Minnesota Depository. This significant sub-collection, primarily produced in the U.S. Department of Justice case filed in September 1999, dates predominantly from 1996 to 2001, whereas the documents housed in the Guildford Depository generally date from the company's origin in the early 1900s up to 1995. A review of the more recently produced documents showed that, despite BAT's public claims of having transformed into a socially responsible company, the company still employs the same strategies and tactics used decades ago, particularly as they relate to efforts aimed at undermining tobacco control initiatives at the WHO. Contemporary documents also shed light on BAT's surveillance and information concealment at its own Guildford depository (see Muggli, et al., Big Tobacco Is Watching). Cancer Research UK funded acquisition of these documents, which were added to the documents Web site.

Guildford Archiving Project Goals Realized

By May 2004, all of the Guildford Depository files had been requested from BAT and the Consortium publicly launched the Guildford Archiving Project (GAP). The hitherto confidential project attracted widespread media attention and highlighted BAT's efforts to thwart public access to the document collection. After four years of quiet yet determined work, in October 2004 the Consortium launched the British American Tobacco Documents Archive Web site.

Despite BAT's persistent obstructionism, (BAT continues to withhold some of the documents on unchallengeable grounds of privilege and 181 files have gone unaccountably "missing") the GAP Consortium succeeded in making public a tremendous volume of important information about the tobacco industry, particularly on issues related to international tobacco control.

In July 2008, the BAT documents were added to the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library in an effort to provide researchers, as well as the general public, with unhindered access to the entire body of internal tobacco industry documents.