Michel Poirier

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Michel Poirier was Regional President for the Americas at Japan Tobacco International (JTI) from October 2005 to December 2015 when he left the company.1

Extensive Career in Tobacco Industry

Poirier joined RJR-Macdonald in 1998 (which changed its name to JTI-Macdonald in 1999 when it was acquired by JTI) as Vice President of Sales for the Canadian operation, and was president, CEO and Chairman of JTI-MacDonald from 1998 to 2005.23

Witness in Montreal Class Action Lawsuit

In 2012 a large class-action lawsuit started in Montreal against Canada’s big three tobacco companies, JTI-Macdonald, Imperial Tobacco Canada (owned by British American Tobacco), and Rothmans (owned by Philip Morris International).4 Two sets of plaintiffs (comprising of about 1 million smokers and former smokers4) argued that the tobacco companies had manipulated nicotine levels to make their products more addictive, and had hidden research on the health effects of smoking.5
Poirier was a witness in the trial.67
The Quebec Superior Court ruled in 2015 that the three companies had to pay over CND$15 billion in damages.4 The tobacco companies have appealed this ruling.8

JTI Fined for Smuggling in Canada

In August 2003, when Poirier was CEO and Chairman of JTI-MacDonald, the Canadian Government filed a civil action against RJ Reynolds, JTI and their subsidiaries, for alleged involvement in cigarette smuggling in the 1990s.29 The companies were accused of illegally shipping cigarettes to the United States and then smuggling them back into Canada, without paying taxes on the profits.10
Poirier and JTI-Macdonald denied any wrongdoing.9 However, in August 2004, the company was ordered by the Quebec Superior Court to pay the Quebec provincial government CDN$1.36 billion in unpaid taxes.11 The company’s cash stock was seized and led to an immediate deprivation of about 40% the company’s value and saw JTI-Macdonald file for bankruptcy protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA).
Poirier commented on the need for bankruptcy protection:

“As well, operating under the CCAA will allow the company to continue to defend itself vigorously against the serious accusations in relation to smuggling activities that are alleged to have taken place in the early ‘90s.”11

Poirier further stated that the company ‘’awaits the opportunity to defend itself, as well as to protect its reputations and its business’’.12
In 2010, JTI-Macdonald reached a settlement agreement whereby they agreed to pay CND$150 million.13 This agreement brought an end of more than a decade of litigation over smuggling allegations.

Attempted to Rehabilitate Tobacco Industry’s Image

In 2002, Poirier delivered a speech called ‘Ethics vs. Activists: The Tobacco Experience’ at the Canadian Club of Montreal, a forum for business leaders.14 Poirier used his presentation to attempt to rehabilitate the tobacco industry’s corporate image.
Arguing that the tobacco industry is ‘’ethical and law-biding’’ and sells a legal product that is “enjoyed by 5 million to 6 million Canadians”, Poirier said that the tobacco industry had allowed itself to be framed as “extremist and untrustworthy”, and had remained silent too long in the face of “outrageous” attacks by public health activists and “vigilante watchdogs”.
He further accused the tobacco control community of offering “no facts, no evidence, no proof”.14

Denied the Evidence

Second-Hand Smoke: “There is Still Debate in the Scientific Area”

Since the 1990s the tobacco industry has attempted to discredit independent scientific research that showed that second-hand smoke (otherwise known as environmental tobacco smoke) causes disease.
Poirier has publicly denied the health effects of second-hand smoke.15 At his 2002 presentation at the Canadian Club of Montreal, Poirier told a reporter “As for second-hand smoke….there’s still debate in the scientific area”.1516 Furthermore, he has argued that there was no conclusive evidence that second-hand smoke causes lung cancer, heart disease and other illness and that prohibiting smoking in public places was therefore not justified.17

Tax Policies: “…Higher Taxes Show No Impact on Total Consumption of Cigarettes”

In the same Canadian Club presentation, Poirier also told the audience that ‘’Tobacco control activists will tell you that higher taxes will reduce smoking. But when I look at the historical record in Canada, I see no evidence to support that assertion – and goodness knows we’ve had lots of tax increases on tobacco products in the past’’.14
As a witness during the 2012 trial, Poirier again denied the effectiveness of tobacco tax in the decrease of smoking.18 Poirier was quoted as saying, ‘’I can tell you that higher taxes shows no impact on total consumption of cigarettes.’’6 He did concede that smoking bans had contributed to the fall in smoking rates.18

TobaccoTactics Resources

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  1. M. Poirier, LinkedIn Profile, undated, accessed November 2018
  2. abJapan Tobacco International, Annual Report 2007, 2007, accessed November 2018
  3. Japan Tobacco International, JTI-Macdonald Corp. Reaches an Agreement Regarding Illicit Trade of Cigarettes in Canada, 13 April 2010, accessed January 2019
  4. abcTobacco companies ordered to pay $15B in damages, CBC News, 1 June 2015, accessed January 2019
  5. Canada tobacco companies sued in Quebec for $27bn, BBC News, 12 March 2012, accessed January 2019
  6. abUnknown, Interro Poirier JTI 26 juin 2008- biffé, 26 June 2008, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: D661800, accessed January 2019
  7. C. Callard, Day 57: Quebec’s home-grown tobacco boss, Tobaccotrial.blogspot.com, 18 September 2012, accessed January 2019
  8. A Picard, The long, long fight against Big Tobacco, The Globe and Mail, 13 July 2018, updated 18 July 2018, accessed January 2019
  9. abA. Dowd, JTI-Macdonald faces Canada tobacco smuggling trial, Reuters, 30 May 2007, accessed November 2018
  10. S. Gregory, FW: Executive Summary – June 10, 2005, 19 August 2005, Truth Tobacco Industry Documents, Bates no: 5000954478-5000954493, accessed November 2018
  11. abCigarette-maker seeks shelter, The Globe and Mail, 24 August 2004, updated 21 April 2018, accessed November 2018
  12. T. Weber, JTI-Macdonald seeks shelter, The Globe and Mail, 24 August 2004, accessed November 2018
  13. A. Dowd, Reynolds, JTI Settle Cigarette Smuggling Case, The Globe and Mail, updated 30 April 2018, accessed November 2018
  14. abcM. Poirier, Ethics vs. Activists: The Tobacco Experience. Notes for a Presentation by Michel Poirier, Tobacco.org, 16 October 2002, accessed October 2018
  15. abOntario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, Canadian Tobacco Companies, undated, accessed October 2018
  16. OMA Position Paper, February 2003, accessed January 2019
  17. Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, Tobacco Industry, undated, accessed January 2019
  18. abTobacco Control Laws.org, Superior Court (Class Action Division), 27 May 2015, accessed November 2018