Tobacco industry paid thousands to scientists to criticize EPA report

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A letter-writing campaign organized by the tobacco industry exaggerated the extent of scientific controversy over the effects of secondhand smoke, anti-smoking activists and some scientists say.
The tobacco industry paid 13 scientists more than $156,000 for writing letters and some manuscripts to discredit an Environmental Protection Agency report that linked secondhand smoke to lung cancer, according to documents examined by the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.
The letters, aimed at casting doubt on the EPA’s 1993 landmark report on the effects of environmental tobacco smoke, fetched different prices, according to documents released in Minnesota’s tobacco trial.
In some cases, tobacco industry lawyers edited the letters before they were sent to publications, and there is some evidence that the law firms wrote letters for the scientists to sign.
When the EPA report came out, it caused some debate in the scientific community. But anti-smoking advocates and some scientists say the orchestrated letter campaign misled the public.
“It’s a systematic effort to pollute the scientific literature. It’s not a legitimate scientific debate,” said Dr. Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of the 1996 book “The Cigarette Papers.”
The Tobacco Institute paid $10,000 to Nathan Mantel, a biostatistician at American University in Washington, for a letter printed in a 1993 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The letter criticized a study linking secondhand smoke to cancers in nonsmokers that JAMA published in 1992. A small note at the bottom said, “support for the analyses contained in this letter came from the Tobacco Institute. The views expressed are Mr. Mantel’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Tobacco Institute or the American University.”
Mantel told the Pioneer Press that he was never hired by the tobacco industry, “but I’d be called on occasionally to respond to the articles.”
“The evidence about the effects of secondhand smoke is very unsuitable,” he said. “I would never actively do anything for the tobacco industry. It’s just that if something was published that was unsuitable, I’d write a letter to the editor questioning that.”
Officials of the Tobacco Institute and the two law firms that handled the letter-writing project, Covington and Burling of Washington and Shook, Hardy & Bacon of Kansas City, declined comment or didn’t return calls.
Editors of some of the publications targeted by the tobacco industry said that while some of the authors disclosed ties to the tobacco industry, the editors were unaware those authors were paid thousands of dollars to write the letters.
The payment records are among the millions of pages of tobacco industry documents made public as a result of Minnesota’s recent lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers.