Asbestos Group Hires Former Tobacco PR Agency to Defend Material

The Montreal Gazette reports that “Anti-asbestos activists in Malaysia and Canada say a global asbestos lobby group has hired the Washingtonbased APCO Worldwide public relations company to persuade the Malaysian government not to ban chrysotile asbestos.” Asbestos mining and export has come under heavy fire from critics lately as proponents of the mineral attempt to reopen the last such mine in Canada. The Gazette goes on to explain that the Philip Morris tobacco company hired APCO Worldwide in the early 1990s to “set up a group called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition,” following the U.S. Environmental protection Agency’s classification of secondhand smoke an established human carcinogen. During the public relation company’s employment by Philip Morris, the Canadian news source explains the “coalition's mission was to dismiss concern about second-hand smoke as ‘junk science,’ and to fight anti-smoking regulations.” APCO will likely attempt to create a similar campaign regarding the Malaysian government’s efforts to ban asbestos, as backers of the reopening of the Jeffrey Mine attempt to persuade the public that this material can be used safely. According to the news source, anti-asbestos activist Kathleen Ruff said the company brought in Dr. David Bernstein, “a Switzerland-based toxicologist who has produced studies on smoking funded by the tobacco industry as well as studies on chrysotile asbestos funded by the asbestos industry” to attempt to convince the Malaysian government. The Montreal Gazette goes on to explain that Ruff, a “human rights adviser with the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute, sent a letter to APCO Worldwide president Margery Kraus on Thursday, demanding the company inform the government of Malaysia that it was hired by the International Chrysotile Association.” In that letter she said that all scientific evidence proves that asbestos causes a number of lethal illnesses and its safe use is not possible. In that letter, the Gazette reports that she also explained that only organizations standing to profit from the sale of asbestos defend its use. The news source explains that APCO Worldwide president, Krauss, was unavailable for comment. However, the Canadian news source explains that “A spokesperson for Baljit Chadha of Balcorp Ltd., the lead proponent of the Jeffrey Mine expansion, said the comparison to the tobacco lobby is unmerited.” According to that spokesman, cigarettes possess no “socio-economic benefit,” while asbestos is used to produce inexpensive housing in developing nations, the Gazette reports. Clement Godbout, head of the Montreal-based Chrysotile Institute, said “he sees nothing wrong with an industry lobby group, for tobacco or asbestos, making its case to a government considering a ban of its product,” the Gazette reports. According to Godbout, if opponents of this industry continue to present their information about the dangers of asbestos, they will also attempt to make sure the “whole story” is heard, the Montreal Gazette writes.
  • Lalonde, Michelle. (September 30, 2011) “PR agency used by tobacco firm hired by asbestos group.” Retrieved on October 3, 2011 from the Montreal Gazette.
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