Tobacco Whistleblowers Get Warm Reception at Health Meeting
CHICAGO (Reuters Health) - An appearance by tobacco industry whistleblowers packed the house at the 11th World Conference on Tobacco Or Health here Wednesday. The audience of tobacco control researchers, public health workers and others frequently broke o
Dr. Paul Mele, former research scientist at Philip Morris, talked about his assignment: to identify substitutes for nicotine. ``It had to maintain the positively reinforcing effects of nicotine--that's experimental psychology talk. What it really means is: it had to keep people smoking. The second major requirement was that the company wanted to decrease or eliminate cardiovascular toxicity. At that point, increases in heart rate and blood pressure were concerns.''
Mele received loud applause and a few chuckles when he described smuggling research documents out of his office the day his research projects were shut down. ``I put them in my briefcase. Those that wouldn't fit in my briefcase, I put in my shirt. I had them up my jacket. I think I looked like I gained 20 pounds when I walked out that day.'' He said those documents eventually played a role in congressional hearings into tobacco.
Mele and fellow former Philip Morris scientist Dr. William Farone both said they went into tobacco research in order to help devise safer alternatives to regular tobacco cigarettes. Farone reported that tobacco executives told him that he was being hired because cigarettes needed to change. ``'We have to make this product safer,''' Farone recalled being told, ``'We have to make it acceptable.' The model is going from a cigarette to going to a nicotine delivery device.''
While the 4,500 delegates at this conference are focused on disseminating research information on tobacco and tobacco control, they heard a videotaped presentation by Dr. Gary Huber, who did tobacco industry-funded research at Harvard University. He described the consequences of tobacco industry secrecy about internal research. ``It delayed by 10 or 15 or more years the truth that really needed to come out,'' Huber said.