Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Day 125: William Anthony Farone

For information on accessing documents, see note at the end of this post.

William Anthony Farone, Ph.D. is a former Philip Morris Director of Applied Research, and is considered in lawsuits to be an anti-tobacco expert. Dr. Farone was hired at Philip Morris to make safer products and to find business alternatives outside the tobacco industry for Philip Morris. 
William Farone was originally scheduled to be an expert witness in the Montreal Tobacco trials, testifying on behalf of the federal government. Soon after the government's release from the case, the plaintiffs announced that he would be testifying at the trial as a fact witness instead. The opinion he drafted for the federal government is still available on the plaintiff's database, although it is unlikely to ever become an exhibit in this trial.

Today was the first of his two-day appearance and the plaintiffs must be very happy with how it went. Not only did he allow some "hot documents" to become evidence, he held the judge rapt attention with his stories of shenanigans in the boardrooms of Philip Morris.

Mr. Farone is famous enough that a few onlookers turned up to watch today's proceedings. They were not disappointed!

Introducing Mr. Farone, PhD.

William Farone is a chemist by training. (He received his PhD and earlier degrees from Clarkson University in nearby Potsdam, New York). Most of the first decade of his professional career was spent providing research support to the soap-giant Unilever in its development of new products.

In the mid 1970s, Mr. Farone was recruited by Philip Morris USA, where he worked for 8 years on projects aimed at developing a less harmful cigarette.

His unhappy departure from the company in 1984 came after a management shake-up that reduced both his career and his research prospects. But through the company he subsequently founded and his continuing research efforts, Mr. Farone remains involved in reducing harmful substances. His CV shows that well past the age that many retire, he continues to file patents and publish his research findings. 

Mr. Farone is the kind of man you would love to have dinner with. He is easy to listen to, with a gentle but colourful voice. He has twinkling eyes and a charming smile, although because the witness faces the judge, only Justice Riordan could see them.

At 73, he is middle aged by the standards of this trial, but his manner of speaking of long-past events makes them sound like current events.

See for yourself! You can also watch Mr. Farone being interviewed for the movie Addiction Incorporated, or read his expert report for the US DOJ case.

The link between Philip Morris USA and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges

Although the tobacco companies involved in this trial are all subsidiaries of multinational operations, they have tried hard to maintain a distinction between activities in Canada and those elsewhere. 

So when Philippe Trudel tried to use Mr. Farone's presence to put documentary records from Philip Morris USA on the trial record, Simon Potter (who represents Rothmans, Benson and Hedges) was quick to argue that these were not relevant to Canada. 

He was not successful. Justice Riordan has progressively opened the door to documents from "foreign" operations, and he was even more definitive today.  "I have ruled on this close to two-dozen times," he said. "What happened in the U.S. is relevant."

Mr. Farone provided clarity on why the work of the large scientific operation at PM-USA (Exhibit 1451) was relevant to an international operation like Canada. He explained that the Tobacco Technology Group (Exhibit 1452), coordinated these efforts and that the cross-appointments of its members with other PM structures helped the flow of information.

"The tobacco technology group was set up to disseminate information to all affiliates of Philip Morris Incorporated to control the dissemination of technology world wide" ... "They were serviced by the research and development that we were doing. It was complicated, but connected through the work arrangements." 

The link between smoking and death

At the time Mr. Farone worked at Philip Morris (1976-1984), the company had made no public acknowledgement of the harms of smoking. But among the scientists "there was no controversy" - they knew that smoking caused cancer and other diseases.

Nonetheless, the company provided guidelines on how to answer questions about smoking, and these continued to deny any health harms from smoking. (Exhibit 1463). These guidelines were inconsistent with what the scientists knew, said Mr. Farone.  "We absolutely knew that there were constituents in cigarette smoke – from literature going back to 1959 – that cause cancer."

Concerns about increasing public knowledge about health consequences of smoking apparently influenced the research grants for outside medical research. Philip Morris wanted to make sure that it did not fund research that "relate human disease to smoking" or advance "new tests for carcinogenicity." (Exhibit 1464

Nicotine and addiction

Mr. Farone said also that the scientists in the company accepted that nicotine was addictive or habituating, and that between those two words "there is a distinction without a difference. .... "Most of these people have chemical training – they see addiction within a chemical meaning – the binding of of chemicals to receptors in the brain."

Among the research projects were studies on rats to discover more about the effects of nicotine. One important test result, explained Mr. Farone, was that acetaldehyde "had a synergistic effect of reinforcing the nicotine."  This chemical was toxic when inhaled, even though it was turned into benign vinegar when ingested. Nonetheless "The company became interested that it could be added directly" to cigarettes, or that sugar could be added, as it would form acetaldehyde when burned. (Exhibit 1455, 1457, 1458, 1459)

Rats were not the only subject of nicotine studies at PM-USA. Mr. Farone talked briefly about experiments done on human subjects, and the varying interpretations given to results showing that smokers performed better on tests when they had nicotine in their system. "One of the interpretations was that people performed better when they had nicotine. Another was that when you remove nicotine from a smoker, they cannot perform as well." (Exhibit 1461r).

Litigation chill

As he explained it, 1984 was a year of change for the scientists working for Philip Morris. At the beginning of the year, both the President/CEO and Executive Vice-President were fired. A few months later, in April 1994, the axe came down on scientific research.

Mr. Farone was witness to these events. He had been asked by his direct boss "to attend a meeting in his absence dealing with issues of which research would be acceptable and which not."  The meeting was an historic moment.

"What we learned was that any research involving nicotine and addiction was to be terminated immediately."'  The laboratories were destroyed and "the people that were involved were escorted off the premises." Besides the work on nicotine, "we had to abandon projects that would tend to prove that smoking caused cancer or that it was addictive." (Among the affected scientists was Victor deNoble.)

Mr. Farone said today that the reasons for the sudden change in policy were told to him by the company lawyer, Mr. Fred Newman. "We were told that companies were sued in the previous year. They were going to eliminate any information in case there were further lawsuits." 

(Justice Riordan gave a notable response to Simon Potter's objection to this line of questions. "To be clear," said the judge "This is not privileged. Lawyers don’t dictate what research is to be done and not done.")

This was not the first time that litigation concerns had impacted his work at Philip Morris. He also recounted the cloak-and-dagger approach he encountered when trying to get the results of toxicity tests that were conducted off-shore (by INBIFO in Germany).

 "For legal reasons, they did not want the results transmitted to us," he explained.  I had to ask (colleague) Dr. Osdene. He would obtain the information at his home, on a telex that came to his house. He would communicate the results to me verbally. Then he would destroy the documents from which the information came."

The Cross-Examination

Mr. Trudel put his last question to Mr. Farone around the usual time for the afternoon break, and during the pause observers from the health community gathered in the hallways to make a friendly bet on how long the cross examination would take. It was hard to imagine that Simon Potter could pull any information helpful to the companies from this witness! 

Mr. Farone was brought into the discussion. Turns out there is indeed no teacher like experience.

After testifying in more than 100 tobacco trials, Mr. Farone has seen his fair share of industry lawyers. He predicted that the rest of the afternoon would be eaten up with unimportant questions about how good his employment standards were, how much he had enjoyed his work and other time fillers. "The lawyers will meet this evening to figure out their real questions." 

Mr. Potter proved him right. The last hour of the day was spent going over petty employment issues. As he seemed to have exhausted these questions - his thumb madly scrolling down his ipad -Justice Riordan gave him a break and allowed the court to adjourn 10 minutes early. 

Tomorrow Mr. Farone's testimony is expected to finish by lunchtime. The rest of the day will be spent in reviewing "2870" documents.  

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:

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