Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Day 65: The inert chemist

See note at the end of this post for information on accessing documents

Oh, it was a bit of a slog today at the Montreal tobacco class action trial. The witness was Dr. John Hood, a 62 year old chemist who got his first post-university job in 1977 at RJR-Macdonald.

Let's just say the day could have done with a little chemistry. Answers devoid of content delivered in a voice devoid of inflection resulted in this “eye on the trial” occasionally being held open with a toothpick.

Dr. John Hood came from Northern Ireland to Canada (as did his supervisor, Mr. Howie, who testified last week). But whereas Mr. Howie was an analytical chemist (focusing on measurements), Dr. Hood's training was in physical chemistry, whose focus he described to the court as being on the speed and mechanics of reactions between chemicals. No doubt this is a valued discipline in an industry whose products are combusted.

Dr. Hood has not worked in the tobacco industry since he left RJR-Macdonald to work at Molson breweries, thirty years ago.

Plaintiff lawyer Pierre Boivin, who had the challenging task of examining this witness, asked Dr. Hood whether he had reviewed the few dozen documents that had been sent to him and how much time he had put into preparing for the trial. Two years after receiving the material, and with 9 days' preparation effort with defendant lawyers, the witness still offered very little insight or information that went further than the words on the pages that were reviewed with him.

Nonetheless, the documents are an important and fresh contribution to public knowledge about tobacco industry research in Canada. To date, almost all of the research on Canadian style cigarettes made public has been as a result of the release of BAT documents in US trials. Previous trials in Canada have focused on advertising laws, and scientific research has not become part of the trial records. The documentary legacy introduced to this trial through the testimony of Mr. Howie and Dr. Hood exposes the depth of effort put into controlling nicotine levels and other smoke compounds within the RJR corporate family.

Making low tar cigarettes as good as possible

Dr. Hood said his work at RJR-Macdonald eventually focused in four areas. One was aimed at reducing the harshness of smoke in all cigarettes, the other three were all aimed at finding new ways to make better lower tar cigarettes:

“One was smoke pH  – making low tar cigarettes as good as possible. The second was reduced tar by chemical processing where we tried to extract the tar generating compounds before manufacturing the cigarettes. It was an alternative way of making low tar cigarettes. The third one was a way where we looked at substituting the smoking material in a cigarette with non-tobacco material – again with the goal of reducing the tar delivery of the cigarettes.”

He downplayed the importance of his research. “As it happens nothing ever came from any of these projects. They ended inconclusively -  incoherently – nothing ever happened from them," he said.

Getting the pH above 5.8

In the memos he wrote during his first year at the company, Dr. Hood had described his task more in terms of increasing nicotine than decreasing tar, and by his second year he was involved in a project to increase smoke pH. (Exhibits 676676A676B).

“Interest has recently been centred on the subject of raising the nicotine content of smoke from Canadian cigarettes in order that a more "satisfactory" taste be perceived by the consumer.

This objective may be pursued in two ways, (a) by raising the proportion of high nicotine grades in the blend, and (b) by raising the smoke pH in order that an increased proportion of unprotonated nicotine is formed, which is considered to provide a greater taste sensation than its protonated derivatives. Free unprotonated nicotine does not exist in cigarette smoke at pH below 5.8.” (676B)

When John Hood visited the RJR laboratories in Winston Salem in 1979, he noted their research on ammoniation  and smoke pH (Exhibit 677, 648F). His initial enthusiasm seems to have turned to disappointment, and towards the end of his time at RJR-M he presented some disappointing findings. (Exhibit 686).

"Ammoniation, therefore, produces mixed results. On one side there is a definite increase in mildness but this is outweighed, at least for unflavoured 100% flue-cured Canadian blends, by the drawbacks of off-taste, etc. Perhaps work with steaming or flavour development would overcome these drawbacks, but at the moment this is the state of the art."  

Today Dr. Hood sounded like he had personally given up on the idea. There were no consistent responses from smokers' panels to these cigarettes: some smokers liked them, some didn't. "At the end of the day, if people aren’t going to like the prototypes of these products I am not going to go any further with them." 

Modifying tobacco and substitute tobacco

By the summer of 1979, finishing his second year at the company, Dr. Hood had written initial reports on tobacco substitutes, (Exhibit 681), and reducing tar by chemical means (Exhibit  682,  682A  682B  682C 682D

These reports, together with the monthly research reports produced by the R&D division, give a sense of the breadth and depth of effort put in the Montreal operation to support product development. (Exhibit 648D  648E), as well as tracing the work of John Hood and his colleagues in pursuit of tobacco ammoniation and reduced harshness (648F648G648H648I).

This was not the only research available to the company, however, as the Canadian-based researchers were also kept informed about the findings of their Winston-Salem colleagues on the relationship between nicotine and tar and smoker satisfaction (Exhibit 683684).

The Mysterious DM

Towards mid-afternoon, Pierre Boivin asked his final question: "Do you know what DM stands for?" So far none of the RJR-Macdonald witnesses has been able to tell the court what is contained in the additive it used at least until the late 1980.
"No I don't" said Dr. Hood.
The elusiveness of this evidence was not lost on Justice Riordan. "It's quite a mystery," he observed.

Mr. Lespérance asked a second brief round of questions for the plaintiffs - focusing on the Hunter list and the witness' expectation of toxicity studies to demonstrate safety of additives.

No one else had questions. Before thanking the witness, Justice Riordan commented on the novelty of finishing a witness "within the anticipated time."

More orphan documents

With the remaining time in the day, Ms. Gabrielle Gagné continued her task of introducing into the record documents that have been orphaned in the sense that there are no witnesses left alive to authenticate them - a task that is available for unexpected breaks in witness testimony.

From a high stack of manila folders, she calmly pulled out one after another, had it numbered and filed into the court record. The task is made even longer by its second element - identifying to the court which parts of the document will are relevant to the plaintiffs' case. (These new documents are not yet on the database, and will be identified in a later blog).

Since JTI-Macdonald lawyers have assumed the lead for the defence, the court atmosphere has become relaxed enough that in-jokes and laughter are now sometimes exchanged. During the methodical (read dull) process of introducing these documents, Justice Riordan teased JTI-Macdonald's lead counsel, Guy Pratte, who sits a few feet ahead of him. "Remember, this is why you went to law school."

Tomorrow and Friday, Peter J. Hoult is expected to end his testimony. Next week the court will only be sitting on Wednesday morning, when the first of Rothmans' Benson and Hedges witnesses (Mr. Ron Bulmer) will testify.

To access trial documents linked to this site:

The documents are on the web-site maintained by the Plaintiff's lawyers. To access them, it is necessary to gain entry to the web-site. Fortunately, this is easy to do.

Step 1:

Click on: https://tobacco.asp.visard.ca

Step 2:

Click on the blue bar on the splash-page "Acces direct a l'information/direct access to information" You will then be taken to the document data base.

Step 3:
Return to this blog - and click on any links