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Study sheds light on physicians testifying in court that smoking didn’t cause cancer

addict-84430_1280 (1)A small group of board-certified physicians helped defend the tobacco industry in more than 50 cases by providing expert testimony that years of heavy smoking did not cause the head and neck cancers of the individual plaintiffs despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.

This is the finding of a study led by Robert Jackler, MD, professor and chair of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Stanford. From a press release I wrote on the research, which was published today in the journal Laryngoscope:

 "I was shocked by the degree to which these physicians were willing to testify, in my opinion in an unscientific way, to deny a dying plaintiff — suffering the aftermath of a lifetime of smoking — of a fair trial," said Jackler, referring to the physicians cited in the study as a "pool of experts willing to say over and over again that smoking didn’t cause cancer."

In previous research, Jackler has written about the tobacco industry’s influence on public health through advertising, marketing, manipulation, and promotion. But most of his research up to this point has focused on the past. In this study Jackler turned to the present day. He read through thousands of publicly available expert-witness depositions and trial testimony from Florida courtrooms from 2009 to 2014 and took a hard look at the accuracy of the testimony. In his study, he states that testimony was remarkably similar from case to case and was “faithful to the tactical narrative that there are many, many causes of head and neck cancer — and that factors other than smoking must have caused the plaintiff’s disease.” But as I wrote in our release:

An obvious fallacy of this argument lies in the fact that literally billions of nonsmoking people are exposed regularly to gasoline fumes, use cleaning solvents, eat salted fish or live in urban environments. Were these causative factors for head and neck cancer, with even a minute fraction of the potency of tobacco, the rate of head and neck cancer among nonsmokers would be much greater than what has been observed.

The study, which includes a review of the scientific literature, said this testimony is just inaccurate:

"The tobacco industry identifies the best experts that money can buy, trains them in their well-honed narrative to manufacture doubt in the minds of the jury and makes use of them over and over in case after case,” the study said. Given the ethical traditions of medicine, it seems likely that these physicians believe their well-compensated testimony on behalf of tobacco companies occurs in the shadows, out of view of their families, friends and professional colleagues, Jackler said.

Previously: What's being done about the way tobacco companies market and manufacture productsHey doc, got a light? Research highlights Big Tobacco’s long history with the medical community and Throat doctors manipulated by Big Tobacco
Photo by PublicDomainPictures

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