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Stanford Study Finds Fault With Tobacco Testimony of Six Physicians

Six physicians who provide expert testimony on behalf of tobacco companies don’t accurately present the scientific evidence linking smoking to cancer, according to a Stanford study published this week.

The study looked at testimony from six ear-nose-and-throat (ENT) physicians and found a pattern of misinformation:

“A small group of otolaryngologists regularly serve as experts on behalf of the tobacco industry,” the Stanford study concluded. “Examination of their opinions in relation to the scientific literature reveals a systematic bias in interpreting the data relating to the role played by smoking in head and neck cancer causation.”

One of the six physicians is a retired Stanford clinician; the other five are practicing ENT’s in Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina and Texas.

“It was deeply disappointing to see them stray from scientific evidence,” said Robert Jackler, an ENT at Stanford and head of a research group called Stanford Research Into The Impact of Tobacco Advertising.

“I saw it in case after case after case,” Jackler said. “They argued that cigarettes and tobacco were not the cause of cancer.”

That runs counter to numerous scientific studies and contradicts the official position of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

According to the study:

  • One physician accepted more than $100,000 in court appearance fees from tobacco companies;
  • Another refused to admit the link between laryngeal cancer and tobacco products;
  • One doctor admitted in court that she did not write the submitted medical opinion but just signed the opinion written by tobacco company lawyers; and
  • One physician testified about the cause of a patient’s cancer without ever reviewing that person’s medical record.

Those positions and statements were particularly egregious, Jackler said, because those court trials were civil cases, which means experts were required to produce opinions based only on a 50% preponderance of evidence.

Jackler did not name the six physicians in his study, though those names do appear in other media reports, including Vocativ, a media and technology blog. “I do think most of these physicians testify for tobacco companies partly because no one knows they’re doing it,” Jackler said. “Our intention was not to single out any particular physician, our intent was to investigate the practices of tobacco companies. But I must admit, the serious transgressions of professional conduct give me pause, and I’m sure these people would be terribly embarrassed if their friends or family knew what they were doing.”

The report was published in Laryngoscope, a medical journal.

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