Youth smoking expert a reluctant witness

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Cigarette advertising is an important influence on children when they decide to begin smoking, an expert witness maintained Tuesday in Minnesota’s tobacco trial.
But Cheryl Perry repeatedly had to ward off advances to make her points and frequently went beyond the scope of questions during a verbal fencing match with tobacco attorney Robert Weber.
Many of Weber’s questions were about the 1994 surgeon general’s report on preventing tobacco use among young people, of which Perry was senior scientific editor.
As Weber asked about what influences teen-agers to take up smoking, he tried to get Perry to say advertising was only a risk factor, not a cause of teen smoking.
“Not only a risk factor,” Perry responded. “We felt it was an important factor in influencing young people to smoke.”
“Isn’t it true that nowhere is it stated that advertising is a cause’ of smoking initiation?” Weber asked.
“No, I wouldn’t agree with that,” Perry said. “We weren’t ready to use that word, causal,’ which is a very powerful word, because we wanted more data. We have that data now.”
Perry stressed that the surgeon general’s report is a conservative document. “It’s not an advocacy piece. We were very careful.”
Perry, an expert on adolescent behavior from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, was called by the state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.
The plaintiffs are suing the tobacco industry to recover $1.77 billion they claim was spent treating smoking-related illnesses. They say cigarette makers knew the health dangers of smoking, hid their knowledge, marketed to teen-agers and manipulated nicotine to keep smokers hooked.
Perry frequently grew frustrated with Weber’s attempts to limit her answers to specific questions.
“We’re talking about the behavior of the tobacco industry and document after document showing the tobacco companies planned campaigns against youth, targeted youth and got youth to start smoking,” she said at one point.
When asked about a 1972 report on youth smoking prepared by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Perry said, “This government document is pretty outdated, and its conclusions are really not relevant now.”
Pressed about whether the study showed that parental smoking was a risk factor in determining whether children would smoke, Perry answered: “In this outdated study, they did identify parents as an influence of smoking.”
Perry testified Monday about more recent data that showed parental smoking was not a significant factor in whether children would smoke.
“Parents who smoke not only model smoking but they model the consequences of smoking,” she explained.
Weber asked Perry about several other risk factors, including socioeconomic levels and underachievement.
She warded off the questions and quickly countered: “The source of cigarettes is the tobacco industry, and they have figured out how to influence these (risk) factors, which in turn will influence smoking,” she said.