A father with inoperable lung cancer may sue his former company for giving him thousands of free cigarettes, which he blames for the disease.
Simon Neale, 57, said he was given 1,200 cigarettes for free every month while he worked for a company which later merged with British American Tobacco.
Mr Neale chose to smoke the freebies and said he became a heavy smoker as a result of his job perk.
But last year Mr Neale was diagnosed with lung cancer, which he said ‘knocked him for six’. He quit smoking after finding out about the illness.
An anti-smoking charity said Mr Neale is not alone in his suffering and called for other potential victims to come forward and ‘call Big Tobacco to account’.
Simon Neale has developed inoperable cancer and blames it on the thousands of cigarettes he was given for free while working for what is now British American Tobacco (stock image)
Mr Neale spent four years working as a salesman for Rothmans, a British cigarette manufacturer, from 1982 to 1986.
While he worked there, he said, he was given so many free cigarettes he often had 30,000 of them kept in a safe in his car boot.
‘It’s staggering looking back on it,’ he said. ‘But I was told when I joined the company that I’d be getting 1,200 free cigarettes a month.
‘Working at Rothmans, I went from being an occasional smoker, a social smoker, to being a heavy smoker because I had so many cigarettes given to me.
‘Last autumn, I was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and it knocked me for six. The worst thing was telling the children.
‘The lung cancer has all come about from me working for Rothmans.’
Law firm Leigh Day is now considering suing British American Tobacco, which absorbed Rothmans in 1999.
BAT is a multinational firm worth almost £70billion and the biggest publicly traded tobacco company in the world.
WHEN DID PEOPLE REALISE SMOKING CAUSES LUNG CANCER?
Lung cancer was once a rare disease and considered peculiar by doctors but a surge in the popularity of cigarettes triggered an ‘epidemic’ of it.
Cigarettes started to become mass produced and popular towards the end of the 1800s, with lung cancer cases appearing increasingly often years later.
One scientist in 1898 suggested tobacco dust, rather than smoke, could be triggering tumours – but his theory was corrected in 1912 when another said the smoke was to blame. But this wasn’t proven or widely believed.
By the 1920s lung cancers were starting to become common and doctors tended to blame smoking, dust from tarred roads, industrial air pollution, and exposure to poisonous gas during World War I.
But by the 1940s and 50s experts were beginning to understand it was smoking cigarettes which was driving up cancer rates.
A poll in the US in 1954 found about 41 per cent of the public believed in the link.
By the mid-50s tobacco companies knew their cigarettes were making people terminally ill but are believed to have tried to quash evidence in a bid to keep sales high.
Scientific studies proving the strong link began to surface in that decade and the evidence soon became irrefutable.
Cigarette consumption reached its peak in the US in 1982, when 630billion were smoked in a year, before it began to fall.
There are now 1.1billion smokers around the world – around one in seven people – and more than seven million people die every year as a result of the habit.
Tobacco companies are believed to make $10,000 profit for every smoker who dies.
Source: Tobacco Control and World Health Organization
Mr Neale’s experience could set a precedent for other people who worked for the company and developed cancer after being given free cigarettes.
The chief executive of the charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Deborah Arnott, said tobacco executives knew at the time that smoking was deadly.
ASH will today call on BAT to reveal the full details of its free cigarette policies at an annual general meeting.
The firm also gave away cigarettes to members of the public, according to ASH.
Ms Arnott said: ‘Simon Neale is not the only one. Many thousands of employees were given free cigarettes and free cigarettes were also doled out to the public.
‘Big Tobacco promoted its products while hiding from the public – and its own employees – its own evidence that smoking was heavily addictive.
‘We’d encourage anyone now suffering serious smoking-related disease who took up smoking before the 1990s to come forward and tell us their story.
‘Big Tobacco must be called to account.’
A chief at BAT said the cigarettes were given as an option, suggesting anyone accepting the freebies had to actively ask for them.
Simon Cleverly, group head of corporate affairs at the company, said: ‘Historically, BAT employees had the option to receive a monthly allowance of cigarettes.
‘At all times, these products complied with all applicable laws and regulations, including the relevant health warnings.
‘In a small number of markets – six out of approximately 200 – this allowance continues as a result of collective bargaining agreements with local trade unions, and the products supplied comply with all applicable local regulations, including health warnings.’
The link between cigarettes and lung cancer began to be understood by the public around the 1950s.
Some doctors and tobacco insiders are believed to have known for years beforehand, but according to a poll in 1954 in the US, around 41 per cent of people believed smoking cigarettes was a cause of the disease.
This connection is now widely known and the delay between smoking and developing cancer means deaths will continue to rise even if smoking rates fall.
Research by Stanford University published in 2012 claimed cigarette companies make $10,000 for every death caused by smoking.
Leigh Day partner Richard Meeran, acting for Mr Neale, said: ‘We believe that giving employees huge quantities of highly addictive, powerfully cancer causing cigarettes, free of charge, and placing them in a work environment in which they are encouraged to smoke, is a flagrant breach of an employer’s duty of care.’