MIAMI – Defense attorneys for Philip Morris appeared to have an uphill battle on Thursday getting a plaintiff witness to back down from his opinion the cigarette maker and other tobacco companies had engaged in a collective conspiracy to hide the truth from the public about the dangers of smoking.
“Addiction is what drives the train,” said Robert Proctor, a Stanford University-based professor of science specializing in the history of cigarette smoking.
Proctor was called to appear as a witness by Eric Rosen the attorney for Ulysee Holliman. Holliman died in 1993 of lung cancer. His family members are suing Philip Morris claiming Holliman’s addiction to tobacco smoke caused his death and are asking for punitive damages against the cigarette maker.
A jury will decide if Holliman is to be allowed to join a class of Florida residents who sued the tobacco companies in 1994.
Proctor testified for Rosen on Wednesday and then faced attorneys for the defense on Thursday. The defense agreed smoking causes cancer, but contend Holliman knew the risks and made his own personal choice to continue smoking a legally purchased product.
Coverage of the trial is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Members of the jury were warned by attorneys for Philip Morris not to fall into the trap of “presentism,” or misinterpreting past events by applying current values to them.
Proctor said he did not know if Holliman knew about the risks of smoking or if he ever quit. Family members earlier testified that Holliman had attempted to quit a number of times including asking his wife for help, chewing gum as a substitute, but to no avail.
A meeting among top officials of cigarette companies at the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1953, Proctor said, was held to coordinate efforts to counteract and deny a growing body of evidence that smoking was a cause of lung cancer.
Proctor called the meeting the beginning of a conspiracy.
“You would agree it’s not an all-encompassing conspiracy?” he was asked by a defense attorney.
“Right, it’s a conspiracy to deny the hazards of cigarettes, but it was not an everything conspiracy,” Proctor said.
Proctor said the campaign of deception was designed to influence litigation, politics and public opinion. He disputed attempts by the defense to portray the tobacco companies merely as “competitors.”
Instead Proctor said they competed on everything except health.
“They were bound together in denying the health hazards of cigarettes,” he said.
Proctor said the advertising campaign launched by tobacco companies from the 1950s on, including television, billboards and magazines were partly conspiratorial in nature.
“They (cigarette makers) were advertising to sell their own brands, but the conspiracy acted as an umbrella over the advertising,” he said. “The conspiracy meant they could not say the truth in the advertising (about the dangers of smoking).”
The suggestion that advertising and marketing were not part of a conspiracy, Proctor called quibbling.
“Each company wants to sell the most cigarettes,” he said. “But no one said our brand is safer, or less safe, because that would be admitting (the danger). That would violate the conspiracy.”
Proctor responded that a similar conspiracy existed in marketing cigarettes to young people.
“Each company wanted to get its share of the youth market,” he said. “They were fiercely competing, but they were also denying marketing to youth at all.”
Proctor said during the 1960s an experiment took place in which higher rates of nicotine in cigarettes with lower tar amounts was attempted, but was unsuccessful. The smoke was too harsh for the public’s taste.
He described the addition of filters to cigarettes as a “gimmick” that was also part of misleading the public.
“They’re agreeing collectively never to say they (filters) are safer,” Proctor said. “Because that would imply that others (brands) are unsafe.”
Proctor took issue with a defense attorney exhibit showing a Time Magazine article in 1964 whose author Dr. Ernest L. Wynder claimed that smoking was less hazardous if reconstituted tobacco stems were left in the tobacco. He added that the author was being paid by cigarette makers for his opinions.
“That’s false (safer smoking), I wouldn’t agree,” Proctor responded. “That’s ground-up scrap. That was his (Wynder’s) false view. He did not understand addiction. He was getting $3 million from the tobacco industry.”
Proctor was asked if officials of Philip Morris acquired patents for their use of ammonia as an additive in tobacco. Ammonia can be used to spike the level of nicotine in a cigarette, called “free-basing.”
“They did, but without mentioning the purpose of free-basing,” Proctor said.
Judge Jose Rodriguez of the 11th Judicial District Circuit of Florida is presiding in the case.