Plaintiffs attack credibility of tobacco defense statistician

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A statistician who attacked Minnesota’s estimated costs of treating sick smokers acknowledged Thursday he did not investigate whether conditions such as hemorrhoids and schizophrenia were made worse by smoking.
William Wecker, hired by the defense to evaluate the plaintiffs’ damage calculations, had criticized the state estimate for including the costs of such apparently unrelated health problems in smokers.
In cross-examination, attorney Tom Hamlin attacked Wecker’s credibility and tried to bolster the $1.77 billion damages estimate by the state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.
Hamlin cited several surgeon general’s reports saying cigarette smoking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases in people already at risk due to other factors.
The plaintiffs used data from Minnesota and national surveys to calculate their claim. Wecker criticized the use of national data in figuring costs for Minnesota Medicaid patients.
As during most of the 14 weeks of testimony, jurors showed no emotion but a few yawned as Hamlin and the statistician discussed the complex formula the state used to calculate damages.
However, Ramsey County District Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick got a laugh and probably echoed the feelings of many in the courtroom as he picked up a hefty tome filled with Medicaid statistics.
“This is worse than War and Peace,'” Fitzpatrick said.
“The good news, your honor, is we’re not going to read it,” Hamlin said.
“I did read War and Peace,'” Fitzpatrick said.
Wecker acknowledged that he was asked in 1990 to study tobacco data and has consulted in a number of Medicaid lawsuits, including the cases that were settled in Mississippi, Florida and Texas.
Wecker said he did not collaborate with other defense experts who will testify in Minnesota about the damages estimate and did not consult with any doctors or scientists in preparing for the case.
“I did my own work,” Wecker said.
When he ran the numbers, Wecker said, he found that smokers on public aid cost the state no more for health care than nonsmokers on public aid.
But Hamlin cited reports by the Centers for Disease Control and American Heart Association that said smoking-related illnesses cost the United States about $50 billion a year in increased medical expenses.
Following Wecker, the defense planned to call only two more witnesses, both to testify on the state’s damages estimate. The case is expected to go to the jury at the end of next week.