Anti-smoking group files complaint against doctor who says nicotine is not addictive
January 24, 2014
By Michelle Lalonde, THE GAZETTE
The Non-Smokers’ Rights Association has filed a complaint with the Coll?ge des m?decins du Qu?bec against a psychiatrist who testified this week at the ongoing hearings of two class action suits brought by Quebec smokers against three tobacco companies.
The complaint accuses Dominique Bourget, a forensic psychiatrist at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, of breaching the College’s ethics code by “minimizing the gravity of, if not denying the existence of, tobacco dependence” in her testimony and in a report she prepared for the proceedings.
The two class actions, one brought by the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health in the name of 90,000 Quebec victims of lung, larynx and throat cancer and emphysema caused by smoking cigarettes, and the other brought by C?cilia L?tourneau representing 1.8 million smokers in Quebec considered dependent on nicotine in the cigarettes manufactured by these companies, were authorized in 2005 and are being heard simultaneously by Superior Court Judge Brian Riordan.
Bourget testified as a witness for the tobacco companies — Imperial Tobacco Limited, Rothman’s, Benson & Hedges Inc. and JTI-Macdonald — this week in Quebec Superior Court in Montreal.
Bourget, who is licensed to practise in Ontario and Quebec, is a member of the Coll?ge des m?decins du Qu?bec, and must adhere to its code of ethics. Articles in that code state that doctors must not take actions or make statements that run counter to current knowledge in medical science, and must not transmit written or verbal information that they know to be incorrect.
In his complaint to the Coll?ge, Quebec Director of the NSRA Fran?ois Damphousse accuses Bourget of offering “specious and misleading arguments” in her report to the court and expressing doubt that nicotine can legitimately be considered an addictive drug.
“This woman is clearly a hired gun,” Damphousse said in an interview with The Gazette during a break in testimony Thursday. “The industry is always trying to find someone to defend its position that nicotine is not a problem. … She just brushes aside all the science on nicotine addiction and the neurophysiological effects of nicotine on the brain. … She is rejecting current scientific knowledge about addiction and she is not allowed to do that as a member of the Coll?ge.”
The Gazette could not reach Bourget for comment on the complaint. A spokesperson for the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre said Friday afternoon he would transmit the complaint to Bourget, but she had not responded to an interview request by press time.
In an interview, Damphousse accused Bourget and lawyers for the tobacco companies of minimizing the gravity of tobacco dependence and of Tobacco Use Disorder, a mental disorder included in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used widely by mental health professionals and researchers to characterize mental disorders.
In her testimony, Bourget was asked by Simon Potter, a lawyer for Rothman’s, Benson & Hedges, whether the desire for roast beef in someone who has given it up to lose weight has the same effect on the brain as the desire for nicotine in someone who has given up cigarettes.
Potter described himself as a man who is now on a diet but who was in the past “inordinately fond” of roast beef. “Can you tell me, is that roast beef having an effect on my neurons or on the reward system (in the brain)?” Potter asked.
“Well certainly,” Bourget answered. “If you have a like for the roast beef and looking at a roast beef makes you salivate, you have a desire for it. … It is a pleasure; it is something that is seen as a need — as a pleasure — as something you want, the same way that we can discuss about tobacco or other substances, or the teenager who plays his Internet games and cannot let go of the computer and needs to be reminded that he has homework.”
Bourget characterized smoking as a “lifestyle choice,” stressing that not all smokers have difficulty quitting and that nicotine does not impair one’s capacity to decide whether or not to smoke. She testified that she could not agree with recognized addiction researchers who claim nicotine is an addictive substance with similar potency to alcohol, opiates amphetamines and cannabis, and would concede only that nicotine is addictive “in some people.”
Lawyers for the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health noted that Bourget’s report is remarkably in line with talking points outlined in a “spokesperson’s guide” issued by the tobacco company Philip Morris International, in particular the portions regarding addiction.
Those guidelines advise tobacco company spokespersons to try to discredit the use of the word addiction in relation to tobacco use. They suggest emphasizing that “addiction” is a “frequently misused term that has become a catchphrase for many habits,” and has become almost meaningless. “After all, people say they are addicted to all sorts of things — to foods like sweets, to work, even to video games,” the document suggests as a response to claims that smokers can’t quit because they’re addicted to nicotine.
Bourget told the court she had never seen the document before, nor is she a spokesperson for Philip Morris, although she did concede that many statements in her report and her testimony seemed to conform to the guidelines.
The hearings continues next week.
Ontario files $50-billion suit against tobacco manufacturers
The suit claims damages for past and ongoing health care costs
Sep. 29, 2009
By Andrea Hopkins
Ontario said on Tuesday it has filed a lawsuit seeking $50-billion in damages from tobacco companies for health care costs incurred by taxpayers since 1955.
In doing so, Ontario became the third of Canada’s 10 provinces to sue the country’s tobacco manufacturers, all of which are units of foreign tobacco makers, including Philip Morris International Inc. (PM-N48.26-0.48-0.98%) , British American Tobacco PLC (BTI-A62.32-0.93-1.47%) and Japan Tobacco Inc.