State explains its $1.77 billion tobacco claim

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A statistician drew smiles from a few jurors Tuesday when he joked about the complexity of a state model for calculating the costs of treating smoking-related illnesses.
Professor Scott Zeger, chairman of the biostatistics department at Johns Hopkins University, testified for a second day as the state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota showed how they arrived at the $1.77 billion figure they seek in their lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
Zeger went through detailed calculations to show how the costs of lung cancer, chronic lung disease and other smoking-related illnesses were separated from total medical costs for female smokers age 35 to 64, women older than 64 and men in the same two categories.
Then he began the same process for 60 million Blue Cross patient records.
“You’ll be relieved to know I’m not going to do this for all of them,” Zeger told the jury. Although jurors had been attentive throughout the dry testimony, several smiled at Zeger’s comment.
Zeger actually was explaining a simplified version of the model. The state claims it shows how much the plaintiffs spent treating smoking-related illnesses for patients with Medicaid, general assistance medical coverage and Blue Cross insurance.
The tobacco industry says the model is flawed.
“The calculations underlying the plaintiffs’ statistical model … are inherently untrustworthy, unreliable and unacceptable as a matter of science,” R.J. Reynolds attorney Bob Weber said in his opening statement.
The relative margin of error for subsets in the model ranges from plus or minus 41 percentage points to nearly 176 percentage points, Weber said.
“On the entirety of their damage claim, the $1.7 billion they seek, the plus or minus is 111 percent. Zero is within that range,” Weber told jurors on Jan. 27.
During questioning by Murray Garnick, an attorney for Philip Morris, Zeger said the simplified model considered gender, age, and whether the patient was a smoker. It did not take into account lifestyle, family history, environment or diseases not considered to be closely related to smoking.
The simplified model also did not consider whether a person drinks alcohol, he said, and “does not have information about whether a person eats 10 Big Macs a day.”
Zeger also said the simplified model did not address whether smokers (anyone who had ever smoked more than 100 cigarettes) overall had higher or lower total medical costs than nonsmokers, saying such a comparison would be “silly.”
The core model looks at medical expenditures “using the most important piece of information we had available to us in Minnesota. That is what diseases they had,” Zeger said. “To not use the information that there were 90,000 Minnesotans that had smoking-related disease, that would be incorrect.”
Jurors on Wednesday were to review a large volume of documents introduced in the trial. Testimony will resume Thursday.