Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Day 164: An alternate reality

To access trial documents linked to this site, see note at the bottom of this post.

After the last two days' testimony by Graham Read at the Montreal tobacco trials, Imperial Tobacco will be hard pressed to say that Justice Riordan did not give their star scientific witness a full opportunity to present his version of history.

And what a story it was!

Unfettered by requirements to stay within the class period, within Mr. Reid's direct experience, or within other troublesome boundaries imposed on other witnesses, Ms. Deborah Glendinning was able to invite her witness to share his experiences, opinions, and interpretations of tobacco related events over the past six decades. (Philip Trudel tried sporadically, without success, to persuade Justice Riordan to give Mr. Read a leash of the same length as placed on other witnesses.)

Graham Read at
a Coresta reception 
This kid-glove treatment contributed to the feeling that Mr. Read was some kind of visiting corporate dignitary - an impression that was deepened by his plummy-voiced stories of events across the pond, and his casual dropping of names of people who sound important even though we have never heard of them before. (Lord Walton of Detchant, if you please!)

The goal of Mr. Read's testimony today - at least as it seemed to these ears - was to "explain away" some of the documents and testimony we heard over the first year of the trial. He offered Justice Riordan a radically different way of connecting the dots of tobacco history.

To try to make this happen, Ms. Glendinning took her witness through a fairly wide selection of topics and allegations - and she did so at a steady pace.

Her questions were clear and easy to follow. So clear, in fact, in the answers they were expected to prompt that Mr. Trudel objected to their leading-ness. These objections also fell on deaf ears.

The answers, however, were rarely as clear as the questions. Mr. Read's response was always mellifluous, but the content sometimes neither clear enough or loud enough for this blog to provide a reliable report on BAT's position on some very important issues. (The transcript, when it is available in the coming days, will be more useful for the purpose).

Nevertheless, the main lines of BAT's position came through loud and clear.

* By the early 1970s, BAT turned away from the "lost hope" that the harms from cigarettes could be pinned on a few removable substances, and shifted its research focus to achieving a "general reduction" in the level of all harmful substances. This goal continues to guide its work. "The most effective way to go with conventional products is to reduce everything as far as possible."

* Low-tar cigarettes are an application of this "general reduction" approach. They were and are a good idea and future epidemiology will likely vindicate the industry's efforts to lower deliveries.

* Smokers' compensation was understood by the industry as a potential threat to the benefits of low-tar cigarettes. They cautioned governments about it as soon as low-tar cigarettes were encouraged by governments. Despite these early reservations, the companies have subsequently learned that although compensation does take place, it is not enough to undermine the benefit of low-tar cigarettes. (Mr. Read cited BAT "butt studies" that demonstrate that smokers of low- medium- and high-tar cigarettes inhale differing levels of toxins, but none of the studies were tabled as evidence.)

* The idea of increasing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes relative to tar was not BAT's idea, but was presented by health researcher. (Michael Russell's name was cited on many occasions today as the architect of BAT's approach. He is no longer in a position to challenge BAT's version of events.) The goal of increasing nicotine relative to tar (i.e. manipulating nicotine) was only to ensure that smokers who switched to lower delivery brands did not end up smoking more cigarettes.

* Filter ventilation is another design element intended to reduce exposure to toxins. Mr. Read explained that it reduces substances in the gaseous part of cigarette smoke, whereas filters only reduce more solid particles.

* Health concerns were also at the origin of the use of additives. This happened after government authorities and independent scientists encouraged BAT to make (supposedly safer) tobacco substitutes more attractive to smokers. Which additives can be used is a government decision.

* Although BAT has yet to introduce a "novel" cigarette product like Eclipse or Premier, they have researched how to do so. BAT has its own approach to novel tobaccos, and Mr. Read identified BATFLAKE and WHITESMOKE as processes that generate a tobacco-like substance with "the sensation of taste and flavour, but with many reduced constituents."

 * BAT's approach to science and cigarette development was always endorsed by/directed by/in response to the views of scientists appointed by government or by government. The company had no undue influence on the scientists who with whom they worked.

* BAT made its research results available to health authorities and health researchers and continues to do so. Mr. Read cited as an example of their openness an invitation issued to Health Canada following a visit by Canadian government officials to the BAT laboratories in England. He said Health Canada was "impressed with the facilities," but never formally replied to his suggestion for "any staff to come and work at Southampton... have access to all of our research" or even "appoint a post doctoral fellow [to work at BAT for Health Canada]."

* Other than a small interruption in the flow of documents to Brown and Williamson, BAT has never failed to provide its affiliated companies with copies of its science. BAT has never destroyed its scientific reports. ("Scientific reports are the lifeblood of R&D.") Lawyers have no role in the drafting of scientific reports or the setting of a science agenda.

* The consumer is king. If safer products have not been put on the market, it is because consumers have not wanted to smoke them.

Cigarettes cause cancer and tobacco is addictive 

One of the big questions in this trial is whether or not the companies concealed the harmfulness of or addictiveness of their products. So the room became very quiet as Ms. Glendinning asked Mr. Read whether BAT acknowledges that cigarettes cause disease. "Yes, it does" he responded simply.

"Has it always been the case?" 
"Not as explicitly as that."

His answer when asked to explain the difference over time became a little hard to follow, although he was clear in his attempts to characterize cancer and heart disease as "diseases of old age."

He allowed that prior to statements by BAT CEO (Martin Broughton) to the U.K. Select Committee in 2000, causation was "a complex subject." From the 1950s, BAT had accepted causation as a "working hypothesis" and "predicated our research on that basis." But Mr. Read seemed to be looking for some historical wiggle room by citing differing scientific criteria for the epidemiological inference of causation.

He said any hesitancy by BAT in accepting causation could not be characterized as an attempt to nurture a "false controversy." Such controversy had been genuine and was related to the complex issues in epidemiology. He suggested that the fault might lie at the other end of a scientific debate. "People in public health have difficulty in expressing complex issues. These [scientific considerations] are not easy to communicate in everyday life."

"Does BAT consider cigarettes to be addictive?"

"Was that always the position?"

I became lost in the weeds during Mr. Read's explanation of why and when BAT had changed its view on addiction. Justice Riordan must have also had trouble following, for one of his few questions to the witness today was to repeat the question: "Why did BAT change its position?"

This time the reply was most artful. Mr. Read replied that BAT did not think that tobacco and hard drugs met the same criteria for addiction. For his part, he had grown to see that smokers perceived smoking as addictive and that they recognized it was something they did repetitively despite knowing it might be harmful. The art? He both refuted that addiction had been denied, while reinforcing the "everybody knew" defence.

A multi-talented scientist

I know my share of men in their sixties, and there are very few who are at ease with computer graphic software or with page layout. Mr. Read appears to be one of those rare individuals.

Ms. Glendinning invited her witness to share an aide-memoire he had prepared of the events he had described during his testimony. Such graphic representations have been actively discouraged by Justice Riordan in the past, but he (again) allowed Mr. Read a scope that other witnesses were denied.

Mr. Read's chart was admitted as Exhibit 20224, albeit under reserve.

There was no doubting the pronounced first person singular as Mr. Read described how he "prepared something for himself" to help clarify "three timelines." If he had not made his authorship so clear, I would totally have assumed a young lawyer had prepared it for him.

Honest, it's not how it looks!

The last hour of Ms. Glendinning's questions took place after lunch. She asked Mr. Read to comment on testimony of some other witnesses (notably Jeffrey Wigand and André Castonguay). She presented him with eye-catching statements from a joint research-marketing meetings he attended in Montreal in 1984.

Time will tell whether Mr. Read was able to convince Justice Riordan that a more innocent explanation should be believed for BAT statements such as its desire to "identify the minimum dose requirement for nicotine" or "help our consumer rationalize his decision to smoke." 

The cross-examination of Mr. Read will take place tomorrow. On Thursday, Gaeten Duplessis will testify.