Memo reveals tobacco research delays

ST. PAUL (AP) — Although Philip Morris Inc. identified cancer-causing nitrosamines in cigarette smoke in 1963, the company didn’t begin working to remove them for 20 years, according to a memo introduced Tuesday in Minnesota’s tobacco trial.
E.W. Robb reported in 1963 that he had devised a method for measuring the chemicals that “indicates considerable amounts of nitrosamines in smoke.”
Robb was told to conduct the research after it was reported in scientific literature that the carcinogens might be present in cigarette smoke.
But it wasn’t until 1983 that the cigarette maker assigned about a dozen researchers to begin trying to reduce nitrosamines in smoke, according to another memo written to A. Clifton Lilly Jr., then-director of technology assessment for Philip Morris.
In the memo, Lilly was told that the emphasis of Philip Morris’ research on nitrosamines “shifted from simply monitoring (the chemicals) in tobacco and smoke to an active research program” directed toward reducing them.
“Do you know how many people died of lung cancer during that period of time?” attorney Michael Ciresi asked Lilly during cross-examination Tuesday. “I don’t know,” Lilly replied.
“Do you know how many people started smoking?” Ciresi asked. “No,” Lilly said.
“Millions upon millions, correct?” Ciresi asked. “I don’t know the number,” Lilly replied.
The defense countered later with a document that said some nitrosamines were filtered from cigarette smoke by a cellulose acetate tip. Such filters were being used on some cigarettes when Lilly joined Philip Morris in 1965, Lilly said.
Lilly, 63, has worked for Philip Morris for nearly 33 years and is now vice president for technology, one of two people in charge of the company’s research and new technology development.
Under direct questioning by defense attorney Murray Garnick, Lilly detailed many years of Philip Morris research to reduce tar and nicotine in cigarettes.
Over nearly three decades, Lilly said the company reduced tar by about 75 percent in its Marlboro line, from 25 milligrams in Marlboro reds in 1965 to 6 milligrams in Marlboro Ultra Lights in 1992.
By mid-1994, the company’s Merit Ultra cigarettes had only 1 milligram of tar, he said.
However, Lilly acknowledged the company makes no safety claims about the lower-tar cigarettes.
“I would not tell you reduced-tar cigarettes are safer,” he said.
Philip Morris also spent nearly $300 million in a largely unsuccessful effort to develop a nicotine-free cigarette, Lilly said.
As leader of the research programs, Lilly said he was never denied company funds.
“I was not aware of any (technology) that we didn’t know about, that we didn’t investigate,” he said.
Philip Morris spent $1.23 billion on research and development between 1969 and 1994, according to a chart introduced by Ciresi. During the same period, the company spent $18.74 billion on advertising, marketing and promotion.
The state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota are suing the tobacco industry for $1.77 billion they say they’ve spent treating smoking-related illnesses, plus punitive damages.
The plaintiffs claim cigarette makers knew the health hazards of smoking and tried to create doubts about the dangers at the same time they were manipulating nicotine to keep smokers hooked.
Meanwhile, three of the British trial defendants delivered to the plaintiffs 2,261 internal documents Tuesday to comply with sanctions imposed by Ramsey County District Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick.
The papers included about 2,169 documents from the files of the British-American Tobacco Co. Ltd. and BAT (U.K. & Export) Ltd. plus another 92 from their parent company, BAT Industries PLC.
The documents would not become public until introduced in the trial.
In a 3-2 ruling last Thursday, the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to block the sanctions. Fitzpatrick penalized the companies because two former BAT group researchers — Raymond Thornton and Alan Heard — failed to comply with an order to appear in St. Paul for depositions in January.