Gareth Davis

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Gareth Davis was Chief Executive of Imperial Tobacco from 1996 until May 2010, in a career that spanned 38 years working with the tobacco company.1
In 2016 he was chair of:

  • Wolseley, one of the world’s largest distributor of heating and plumbing products;
  • William Hill, the betting company;
  • DS Smith, a packaging firm. 2


In 2004, The Guardian newspaper noted in an interview with Imperial’s then chief executive:

“Mr Davis is among the most consistently maligned chief executives in Europe. His eight-year reign at Imperial has been regularly punctuated by attacks on the group for its failure to clamp down on wholesaler cigarette smuggling, for recruiting young smokers, and for highjacking sports advertising.”

The paper added:

“Mr Davis’ credibility is further undermined when you start to explore his position on the health risks smokers inflict on themselves. It is a subject on which he is at first reluctant to speak – despite being asked a question three times. And when, finally, he starts to set out his views they sounds about as reasonable as a pitch from the Flat Earth Society.” 3

Denying the Evidence over Smoking and Health

Health Select Committee: “We don’t know if smoking is safe or unsafe”

Appearing before the Health Select Committee in the UK Parliament in 2000 Gareth Davis angered MPs. As the Committee noted in its

“Gallaher, Philip Morris, BAT and R J Reynolds all either directly acknowledged that smoking caused serious diseases, or acknowledged that there was a consensus amongst public health bodies that this was the case. In stark contrast, Mr Gareth Davis of Imperial refused to accept directly any of the evidence, nor did he appear to think it was his role to evaluate this evidence. He told us: “I do not think that we can say that it is safe or unsafe … we do not know whether it is safe or unsafe”. He added that “we do not agree that smoking has been shown to be a cause of certain diseases“.4

Legal Case: “We don’t know if our tobacco kills”

In 2003, in a court case against Imperial in Scotland brought by Mrs McTear, the widow of a man who used to smoke, Gareth Davis again caused outrage. Part of Imperial’s legal defence was to force Mrs McTear and her legal team to prove that smoking causes cancer. Whilst Davis told the court there was no such thing as a safe cigarette, he refused to accept that smoking causes lung cancer. When asked “does this mean that smoking causes lung cancer?”
David replied: “No, it does not mean that;”5
Sir Richard Doll, who is credited with proving the causal link between smoking and cancer in the fifties, who appeared as an expert witness in the McTear case, said:

“The attitude now taken by the company is inexcusable. To my personal knowledge they accepted the causal relationship forty years ago on the advice of their own statistician.”6

Smoking Ban: “A triumph of propaganda over science”

The tobacco industry has long fought smoking restrictions in public places, and tried to undermine the evidence on secondhand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke.7

Liar or Crook?

After the introduction of smokefree legislation in Scotland in 2006, Gareth Davis called the Government’s anti-smoking policy a failure and argued the ban was “a triumph of propaganda over science.”8

Denying Complicity in Smuggling: “Liar” or “a Crook?”

In one of the most extraordinary parliamentary committee hearings ever in the UK, Davis was accused of being either a “liar” or a “crook” who deliberately facilitated tobacco smuggling, by George Osborne, the Conservative MP at a Public Accounts Committee hearing in 2002.
Davis had been called to explain why Imperial was not co-operating properly with HM Revenue & Customs to stop tobacco smuggling. According to Customs, Imperial brands then accounted for 55 per cent of the 17 billion cigarettes smuggled into the UK every year. Customs told the committee that Imperial had been issued with 14 ‘red cards’, banning exports to suppliers abroad, and four ‘yellow cards’, warning that exports might have to stop.
One MP, Conservative Richard Bacon had asked Davis why Imperial had been exporting 1.7 billion cigarettes a year to Latvia, “enough for every man, woman and child to consume 722 cigarettes a year”. Davis said the allegations that he was a liar were “outrageous”. He stated: “I could not refute that more strongly”.9

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  1. Wolseley, Gareth Davis, website, accessed June 2016
  2. Wolseley, Gareth Davis, website, accessed June 2016
  3. S. Bowers, Smoking’s leading light, The Guardian, 13 November 2004, accessed June 2016
  4. Health Select Committee, The Tobacco Industry and the Health Risks of Smoking, 14 June 2000, accessed June 2016
  5. K. Scott, ‘We don’t know if our tobacco kills’, The Guardian, 12 November 2003, accessed June 2016
  6. Action on Smoking and Health, Imperial Tobacco’s behaviour despicable say ASH, 11 November 2003, accessed June 2016
  7. A. Rowell, Tobacco Explained, Action on Smoking and Health, 25 June 1998
  8. H. Wallop, Smoking ban ‘a triumph of propaganda over science’ says Imperial as sales and profits rise, “The Telegraph”, 1 November 2006, accessed June 2016
  9. R. Cookson, A. Rowell, MPs’ verdict on fag boss: “He’s a liar and a crook”, The Big Issue South West, 24-30 June 2002