Ex-tobacco scientist: Cigarette testing inadequate
WHEELING, W.Va. -- Tobacco companies have cut tar levels and otherwise advanced the science of cigarettes, but smokers may not be any better off because biological testing wasn't done on the finished products, a former industry chemist testified Tuesday.
William Farone, director of applied research for Philip Morris from 1977 to 1984, said the companies only performed what he called "imperative" biological testing on prototypes and "reference" cigarettes, or those developed simply as a standard for comparison. Neither kind is an adequate substitute for those sold in stores, he said.
"If you don't test the final product, you can't be sure you've made any difference at all," he said.
Farone, who returns to the stand Wednesday, testified in a class-action lawsuit filed by some 250,000 healthy West Virginia smokers against R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris and Lorillard.
The class consists of people who have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for at least five years, but who are not yet sick. They are seeking the creation of an unprecedented health-screening program they say they deserve because they were exposed to a defective product.
The tobacco companies argue their product is inherently risky but not defective. They also say smokers have long known those risks, and the best type of medical monitoring is quitting.
Before he was fired in 1984 for insubordination, Farone was told that Philip Morris planned to eliminate many projects in his department, including some involving biological testing, to reduce the company's liability. Biological testing can be done at the cellular level, in petri dishes, or on animals.
Although Philip Morris and other cigarette makers did limited biological testing on individual ingredients, they avoided "whole product" testing in the United States because of a so-called "gentlemen's agreement" among the tobacco companies, Farone testified. Under that pact, the manufacturers agreed not to compete with one another on the grounds of safety.
That, combined with what Farone called inadequate funding for research, limited the public benefits of the advances made by tobacco researchers.
One Philip Morris memo showed the company spent $30 million on research and development over a 10-year period -- and $300 million in one year alone on advertising. Pharmaceutical companies spend 10 percent to 30 percent of their budget on research, and cigarette companies also should be spending at least 10 percent, Farone said.
Farone, now a consultant in Irvine, Calif., testified as an expert not only in cigarette engineering and design, but also in consumer product research and marketing.
"They were trying to develop a safer cigarette, but without the biological testing that was required. All the companies were using technology that could be used to develop a safer cigarette," he said. "There's no evidence they ever did develop a safer cigarette."
Although tar levels have been reduced since the 1960s, Farone said that alone is not enough to declare cigarettes less harmful. Lower tar levels can actually be more toxic, depending on the composition of a particular brand.
"The reduction of tar is headed in the right direction," he said under cross-examination, "but if you have evidence that says as you decrease the tar, you're making it more toxic, then you're not moving in the right direction."
Unless the finished product is biologically tested, there is no guarantee that ingredients that are individually benign will remain that way when burned, Farone said.
One industry document, for example, showed that cocoa beans and shells that were rolled in paper and burned actually produced significantly higher tar levels and more harmful byproducts than a Marlboro cigarette.
Philip Morris did conduct some secret biological testing outside the United States at a facility in Cologne, Germany, called INBIFO.
By using the European lab, the company was able to eliminate a paper trail that could be used against them in U.S. courts, Farone said. Contact between the lab and Philip Morris scientists was limited to phone conversations, and what few records did exist were sent to Farone's supervisor at home, then destroyed.
Although some commercial cigarettes were tested, they were identified to the German scientists only by code numbers. Unless someone had the code numbers, the lab results were indecipherable, Farone said.