Florida Record

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Plaintiff witness compares tobacco company’s opinion of smokers to a laboratory rat


By John Sammon | Apr 6, 2019


FORT LAUDERDALE – During questioning of a tobacco industry researcher on Friday, plaintiff attorneys presented internal documents that indicated officials at Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds considered smokers their customers to be like laboratory reward-response animals.

A 1980s internal memo discussed how experiments such as "Pavlov’s dog" - where the dog rang a bell and got food - were like smokers.

“Smoking is a lever press,” the tobacco company memo read.

“Who did Philip Morris compare smokers to?” asked plaintiff attorney Eric Rosen.

“Rats in a cage,” said Dr. Kenneth Cummings, a professor at the Hollings Center Cancer Prevention Institute at the Medical University of South Carolina (Charleston).

Coverage of the trial in the 17th Judicial Florida Circuit Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.

Cummings appeared for a third day as a witness called by plaintiff attorneys representing Karla Zingaro and her husband Robert. The couple are suing Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds for the lung cancer and emphysema suffered by the woman saying the companies are liable for the addictive nature of the cigarettes they sold and should pay compensatory and punitive damages.

Plaintiff attorneys are accusing the companies of engaging in a deliberate campaign of deception that went on for nearly 70 years to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking and of knowingly marketing a defective, harmful product for profits.

Defense attorneys argue that Zingaro knew the dangers of smoking and smoked anyway in the purchase of a legal product and so bears responsibility for her own health problems.

“Did the public have a full understanding (dangers of smoking)?” Rosen asked.

“Based on my research, smokers did not have full appreciation of the nicotine,” Cummings said. “They knew it was hard to quit (smoking), but they didn’t know why.”

Cummings agreed cigarette companies did not share information from studies in the 1960s indicating the addictive nature of cigarettes with the U.S. Surgeon General. It wouldn’t be until 1965 that Congress would require warning labels to be put on cigarette packages. In 1969, cigarette advertising on television was banned and the following year a warning issued from the Surgeon General.

In the early 1960s, smoking was still classified as a “habit” and not “addictive.”

Rosen exhibited a number of inter-office memos one from 1965 that read an amount of nicotine should be placed in cigarettes enough “to keep smokers hooked.”

Another document marked “confidential” expressed the thought, “Do we really want to classify cigarettes as a drug, it is of course.”

Cummings said young people and teenagers were particularly susceptible to inducements to smoke as well as anxiety-prone people or those with behavioral conditions like bipolar disorder. Smokers were also seen to be more extroverted than other people and females tended to smoke more under stressful situations.

Young smokers not yet addicted to nicotine started smoking to gain an image of adulthood, conformity with others and for experimentation, documents revealed.

Another internal communication from R.J. Reynolds exhibited for the jury said, “Our industry is based on design, manufacture and sale of attractive dosage forms of nicotine.”

In yet another, an industry goal recommended getting a non-smoker to become a habituated smoker.

“What did they (cigarette makers) think of having no nicotine in cigarettes?” Rosen asked.

“They thought it would liquidate their business, they would lose their jobs and consulting fees,” Cummings said.

He noted that chemical ammonia was used to reconstitute or spike nicotine levels in tobacco by raising the pH level of nicotine molecules. This was called “freebasing.”

“When you raise the pH it increases the impact (nicotine),” Cummings explained. “It signals you the nicotine will be in the brain shortly.”

The ammonia freebasing also reduced the harshness of cigarette smoke.

Marlboro cigarettes used the ammonia spiking technology, Cummings added.

“That’s why Marlboro sales took off in the 1960s,” he said.

Cummings said even into the 1980s cigarette makers were denying that smoking and nicotine were addictive.

However a 1980s inter-office memo from a Philip Morris official conceded, “We can’t defend continued smoking as free choice if the smoker is addicted.”

Defense attorneys for Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds began cross-examining Cummings late in the afternoon session. He was asked if he was a medical doctor.

He agreed he was not.

“You’re not here to talk about when or why Mrs. Zingaro smoked?” Cummings was asked.

Cummings agreed saying his testimony was concerned with the defense clients Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.

 “You have never been a cigarette designer?”

“No,” Cummings responded.

Cummings agreed he was not an expert on nicotine extraction from cigarettes nor did he have a degree in marketing or advertising.

Trial is set to resume on Wednesday.

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