As Deep Throat proved to be the nemesis of President Nixon in the 1970s, so Mr Butts may be the same for the tobacco industry this decade.
Mr Butts is the code-name for the person who delivered to a medical professor about 4,000 pages of memoranda, reports and letters covering a 30-year period, from the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W) and its parent, the British American Tobacco Company (BAT).
The papers clearly show that the companies knew since the early 1960s that nicotine was addictive and that smoking was harmful, possibly cancer-causing.
Despite this, the tobacco companies still publicly maintain that cigarette smoking is merely habit forming.
The release of the papers has triggered an immediate response in the US from the President down. The American Medical Association devoted virtually an entire issue of its Journal to the papers, the Food and Drug Administration immediately reclassified nicotine as an addictive substance, and President Clinton is introducing measures to restrict its availability to minors.
But worse, the papers also open the floodgates to the thousands of litigation suits that will surely be arriving at the doors of the tobacco companies. So far, the tobacco industry has succeeded in avoiding the payment of even a penny to its customers who have been harmed through smoking.
Drug and health products companies, faced with similar lawsuits, have closed down rather than trying to pay crippling costs and damages.
A fitting conclusion, perhaps, to an industry that produces a lethal substance that kills up to half of all those who smoke. In developing countries alone, about 250 million will die if current levels of smoking are maintained. JAMA, July 19, 1995......