Tobacco companies hired six board-certified otolaryngologists to testify against long-term, heavy smokers who were dying of head and neck cancers (HNCs), according to a new study published online in Laryngoscope on July 17.
Lead researcher Robert Jackler, MD, chair of otolaryngology -- head and neck surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine, reviewed thousands of expert witness depositions and trial testimony from plaintiffs suing tobacco companies for damages. The key issue of the lawsuits was whether it was more likely than not that smoking caused the plaintiffs' cancer.
Dr. Jackler found that the small group of physicians repeatedly testified against the plaintiffs, claiming that smoking did not cause their cancer, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. The physicians instead cited that environmental factors, such as cleaning solvent exposure and using mouthwash, were more likely to have caused the plaintiffs' HNC rather than years of heavy smoking.
"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 -- a fair trial," Dr. Jackler state in a press release. "My study found they used scientifically invalid methods to support their testimony."
The six otolaryngologists in the study defended the tobacco industry in more than 50 cases between 2009 and 2014. Dr. Jackler claims that the tobacco companies found the best witnesses that money could buy, and one of the physicians said he was paid $100,000 for a single testimony.