Medical Historian Testifies on Doubts About Link Between Smoking, Cancer in 1960s in Justice Department Lawsuit
Some "prominent researchers" in the 1960s remained "reluctant to pinpoint smoking as a definite culprit in causing cancer" despite a 1959 report from the U.S. surgeon general that made the conclusion, according to a medical historian who testified on Monday for the Department of Justice in the trial of a lawsuit filed over allegations that several large U.S. tobacco companies violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, Reuters/Los Angeles Times reports (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 9/28).
The lawsuit alleges that Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard Tobacco and the Liggett Group misled consumers about the health risks of smoking and directed multibillion-dollar promotional campaigns at children. DOJ made the allegations as part of a larger federal lawsuit first filed by the Clinton administration in 1999 that accuses the tobacco industry of conspiracy to mislead consumers about the dangers of smoking.
The lawsuit seeks $280 billion in past profits, which represents revenues from sales to smokers younger than age 21 between 1971 and 2000, as well as interest. In addition, the lawsuit seeks $9 billion to pay for smoking-cessation programs and research into safer cigarettes. The trial, presided by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, likely will last at least six months, with 100 witnesses expected to testify in person and 200 others to testify through depositions or testimony in other trials (California Healthline, 9/24).
The medical historian, Allan Brandt, said in prepared testimony that the "world medical profession had reached a consensus by the 1950s that smoking caused lung cancer" and that the tobacco industry had "manufactured controversy over the subject and mobilized skeptics of the smoking-cancer link," Reuters/Los Angeles Times reports.
However, Brandt, the second DOJ witness called in the trial, said on Monday under cross-examination that despite epidemiological studies from the 1950s that linked smoking and cancer, as well as the a 1959 surgeon general report, some researchers at the time did not agree with the conclusion. "There was a group of skeptics," Brandt said. David Bernick, an attorney for Brown & Williamson, said, "There was a real controversy. There were people independent of the tobacco industry who were involved in that controversy."
Bernick, who cited past articles written by Brandt, portrayed him as a biased, anti-smoking advocate who has referred to the tobacco industry as "deviant" and "rogue." Brandt said, "I would use those terms to describe the behavior of the industry" (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 9/28).