Plaintiff attorneys say declining smoking industry targeted teen smokers

By John Sammon | Apr 12, 2019

MIAMI – Attorneys for plaintiff Rosemary Olsen on Thursday sought to portray tobacco companies Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds targeting teenage smokers as potential saviors of an industry whose overall business in the 1980s was in danger of declining, and who created bogus front organizations to combat knowledge of the dangers of smoking.

“Do you have an opinion whether Philip Morris was targeting and marketing to children?” asked plaintiff attorney Alex Alvarez.

“They were,” said Dr. Robert Proctor, a historian of the science and medicine of the tobacco industry and a professor at Stanford University.

The trial in the Dade County Courthouse is bring streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.

The estate of Harry Olsen through his wife Rosemary is suing Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds for the cardiovascular and coronary artery health problems Olsen suffered including a major stroke in the 1980s, which they contend was caused by his addiction to nicotine in cigarettes.

Olsen died in 2006.

Plaintiff lawyers said Olsen’s premature death was caused by the cigarette-makers who were liable for deliberately seeking to hide the truth, marketing what they knew to be a defective and dangerous product to make profits.

Defense attorneys maintained Olsen had plenty of knowledge about the dangers of smoking and chose to disregard it, absolving Philip Morris of responsibility for personal decisions Olsen made for himself.

Proctor told Alvarez the tobacco industry had attempted to pin blame for lung cancer on pollution and other reasons, anything except smoking.

“It was a response to public health reports, to distract,” Proctor said.

 “How did they (cigarette companies) view public health warnings?” Alvarez asked.

“As a threat,” Proctor said.

Alvarez displayed an internal tobacco company memo that predicted further restrictions on cigarettes if they were seen as addicting. He displayed another document that described the Tobacco Industry Research Council set up in 1954 supposedly intended to provide information on the health effects of smoking, as merely an “industry shield.”

Yet another document described the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), another alleged information gathering body, as, “The cheapest insurance the tobacco industry can buy without it (insurance)."  

A 1978 Philip Morris inter-office communication recommended avoiding experiments that could show the addictive impacts of smoking.

“Did the tobacco companies study people and why they smoked so they could make more money?” Alvarez asked.

“Of course,” Proctor said.

Another document stated that without nicotine in cigarettes the market would collapse.

“We would all lose our jobs and consulting fees,” an industry official noted in the document.

“They (cigarette makers) investigated the minimum levels of nicotine required to keep smokers hooked,” Proctor said.

A 1978 inter-office document said people who had been trying to quit smoking should be “intercepted” to keep them smoking.

The documents also demonstrated what plaintiff attorneys argued was concern among cigarette makers that their business could decline in the 1980s and looked to teenagers to save it. The companies studied the habits of teen smokers and considered long-term trends, designed to “maintain market share.”

"Tomorrow’s regular potential customer, 15- to 19-year-olds, from 1967 to 1976 increased (smoking) by 18 percent," one document noted.

Top cigarette company executives appeared on television interview shows in the 1960s denying they were interested in the youth market.

“Those claims were false,” Proctor said. “Youth marketing (cigarettes) went way back.”

Under cross examination, Frank Kelly the attorney for Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, said the companies had admitted that smoking caused lung cancer in 1999 and placed the information on their company website.

Proctor agreed.

"They admitted it for the first time," he said.

He was asked by Kelly about a magazine cover showing space astronauts in 1959 smoking and whether the astronauts knew smoking was dangerous.

“I don’t know whether they knew or not,” Proctor said. “It was not sufficient enough to make them stop.”

Kelly listed a number of American presidents who had quit smoking including George Bush Sr., who stopped before he became president, Barack Obama and Dwight Eisenhower, who once smoked four packs of cigarettes a day.

Proctor agreed a smaller proportion of smokers are heavy smokers smoking every day, and smokers can include those who only smoke infrequently, such as weekend or social smokers.

A national poll conducted in 1959 displayed for the jury by Kelly showed a majority of responders said they believed in the claims made by the American Cancer Society (39 percent), while only 3 percent believed in the industry’s own creation the Tobacco Industry Research Council.

“Would you agree smoke from commercial cigarettes with additives can cause cancer and without additives can also cause it?” Kelly asked.

“For sure,” Proctor said.

“The burning process creates harmful carcinogens?”

“It does,” Proctor said.

The chemical ammonia was used to reconstitute or spike nicotine levels in tobacco by raising the pH level of nicotine molecules. This was called “freebasing.” The process raises the pH level and increases the impact of nicotine.

Ammonia freebasing also reduced the harshness of cigarette smoke.

Proctor agreed that cigarettes without additives could still be addictive.

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Organizations in this Story

Philip Morris Capital Corporation RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co

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