Scientific Witness Teams

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

The US Tobacco Institute's Scientific Witness Teams (SWTs) were set up in anticipation of a number of regulator agencies taking action over the issue of passive smoking or ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke). In 1988-89 it became evident that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was about to issue a Risk Assessment document on ETS which would likely categorise second-hand smoke as carcinogenic, since it was virtually identical (except in dilution levels) to the directly inhaled smoke of a smoker.

The Tobacco Institute therefore turned a large part of its activities away from defending claims of direct smokers' lung-cancer and heart conditions (which were defensible on human-rights grounds -- the smoker's right to choose), to the likely consequences of the EPA's Risk Analysis on the second-hand smoke which was incidentally being inhaled by non-smokers. They usually had no choice.

The ETS problem was therefore handed to the Smoking Issues division of the Tobacco Institute. They created the Scientific Witness Teams to provide 'fire-fighting' services whenever some problem arose (the teams changed over time). Smoking restrictions were also the problem of the headquarters executives who looked after the State and Federal Divisions, and the Labor Management Committee (which dealt with unions and workplace smoking).

Sectors and Regions

The US was divided geographically into Sectors, each with its own Vice President. Within these sectors, Regional Vice Presidents (RVP) and Regional Directors (RD) kept watch on any potential anti-smoking activities, including local hearings, or hearings of the State legislature -- whether on health/environmental grounds, or on economic grounds (excise taxes, etc). They could call on the Tobacco Institute in Washington for help when required. They would then generally be sent a member of the Scientific Witness Team, who would turn up unannounced in the region, generally pretending to be in the area on some other pretext -- but then make him/herself available as an expert on ETS to the local broadcast or print media. On media tours, the Regional staff had strict instruction that the experts were not to be accompanied by identifiable Tobacco Institute staff.

Apart from the seminars, lectures and media appearances, some specialist members of the SWT played other roles:

  • A consultant member of the SWT (usually from ENV Consulting) would be sent to check a building unobtrusively using a briefcase-sized air sampling unit (called PASS - Portable Air Sampling System). The TI didn't want its staff associated with such testings.
  • The Tobacco Industry Labor Management Committee maintained links with the major unions and the AFL-CIO, and it could call upon union lobbyists.
  • When the problem was 'youth smoking' or the sale of cigarettes to underaged kids, the TI could send out an educationalist Jolly Ann Davidson who would boast about the tobacco industry's "Helping Youth Decide" and "Responsible Living" programs for the classroom.
  • Agricultural problems were handled by David Senter and his wife Joan who ran the American Agriculture Movement.
  • Fire safety was also a potential problem which was handled by a specialist lobbyshop TriData under Philip Schaenman and Barbara Lundquist. This was managed at the TI by Karen Fernicola-Suhr.

See this example of the SWT requirements for just the Northern Sector in the period mid-1989 to early-1990. NORTHERN SECTOR

Staff Organisers of the SWT

These activities were organised by Tobacco Institute staff:

* Diana Avedon (TI SWT Coordinator and Scheduler)
* Michele Boisse (TI Senior Legislative Analyst)
* William A Cannell (Head of TI State Division)
* Brennan M Dawson (TI Media Relations - married name Moran)
* Martin J Gleason (TI Vice President and Issues Manager)
* Carol Hrycaj (TI Issues Manager -often misspelled Hyrcaj)
* Robert J Lewis (TI Federal Relations manager)
* Kurt Malmgren (TI Senior VP, State Activities Division)
* George R Minshew (TI lobbyist, later State Activities Division)
* William P Orzechowski (TI Director of Economic Issues)
* Charles H Powers (TI Public/political Relations - ex Republican aide/News reporter)
* Jada V Smith (TI PR spokesperson, later Media Relations Coordinator - ex FAA)
* Susan M Stuntz (TI journalist/staff writer, PR, then Director of Issues Management)
* Kay Thomas (aka Kay Thomas Packett - managed SWT)
* Walter Woodson (TI VP Legislative Activities; State Divisions later Head of PR)
* Catherine J Yoe (TI Director Legislative Information. Issues Management)

Miscellaneous Contractors

* John Rupp the top tobacco lawyer from Covington & Burling (Washington DC.)
* David H Remes a lawyer with Covington & Burling who filled in when needed
* Richard Marcus from PR firm Ogilvy & Mather
* Melinda Sidak A lawyer and scientific organiser/recruiter from Covington & Burling
* Jan Cook the IAPAG organiser from Georgtown University
* James Savarese (ex O&M) who ran the Cash for Comments Economists Network with Bob Tollison. He also worked with the TI's Labor Management Committee and they also provided the services of:
* Thomas J Donahue A lobbyist for National Chamber Foundation (NCF). Also President of American Trucking Association, also Center for International Private Enterprise, also the National Endowment for Democracy
* Harry Kaiser , A contract lobbyist with The Kaiser Company (Ohio). He was a union organiser among tobacco-related unions.

SWT Team members

1988 late-1989 The Tobacco Institute began assembling its Scientific Witness Team in late 1988-89. This was a travelling circus of corrupt scientific lobbyists who were paid to tour around America and speak on radio, appear on TV, give lectures and meet the press -- expressing opinions favoured by the tobacco industry.

These media tours were usually under the control of PR firm Fleishman Hillard and the 'expert' might be the lone speaker, or one in a pair or larger groups. Essentially the same group of lobbyists also made appearances at town hall meetings, state legislative hearings and local ordinance conferences. They were paid generously and given good expense accounts, feted by a young staffer at Fleishman Hillard, and treated to the best hotels. They were sometimes promoting their own businesses at the same time. The Tobacco Institute also had its own names for these groups, mainly based on the message they were expected to promote.

The Truth Squad: This group varied, but the core participants were:

{To preserve the appearance of "Truth" the "Truth Squad" members were not to be accompanied by Tobacco Institute staff.]

Media Tours:

Healthy Buildings International the HVAC/IAQ testing company owned by Gray Robertson had three staff members (including himself) who were paid to speak on media tours and appear as scientific witnesses.
  • Gray Robertson ran the company and handled general media tours
  • Peter Binnie was the partner to Roberson in the original company ACVA. He was included in the list (but no assignments)
  • Jeff Seckler made Legislative appearances at hearings (He later became a whistleblower)
  • Simon Turner made Legislative appearances (He was the son of UK's top tobacco lobbyist AD CliveTurner
Holcomb Environmental Services owned and run by Larry Holcomb was second only to Gray Robertson's HBI as a tobacco-friendly IAQ testing company. They had two main members of the SWT as well as their normal IAQ testing operations
  • Larry Holcomb made appearances also at Legislative Hearings.
  • Joseph Pedelty who was Holcomb's chief of staff, also did Legislative work.
Walter J Decker ran the Toxicology Consultancy Services, and did a range of different tours.
Lawrence Halfen ran Envionmental Consultants Inc. and did Legislative Appearances.
ENV Services (a subsidiary of Environmental Air Controls did surreptitious air quality testing when required. It was run by James Flannery. He also worked for the Business Council on Indoor Air (BCIA) -- run by Paul Cammer -- which also worked with the Tobacco Institute.

Social Cost Tours:

These were run by the Cash-for-Comments Economists Network Their tours spread propaganda about the "Social Costs" of legislation restricting smoking in public place. They had a grand theory that the extra pressure of not-smoking cost a fortune in irritability of smokers, and general discontent.
  • Economics Professor R Morris Coats was used for Legislative hearings. He was from Marshall and Nicholls State Universities.

Responsible Living Tours:

  • Jolly Ann Davidson was an educationalist, and the President of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). She was paid to spread the idea that the tobacco industry was not trying to recruit young smokers, and her evidence was that they funded the NASBE's "Helping Youth Decide" project. This promoted the tobacco industry's was "Responsible Living Program" (with its own Foundation) -- a series of sermons made to be taught in the classroom, telling teenagers that they shouldn't smoke until they were mature. This was, to the rebellious youth, about as successful as telling them they shouldn't masturbate.

Workplace Seminars:

Run mainly by lawyers John C Fox and Dennis Vaughn who specialised in labor relations. They worked through Pettit & Martin and Pilbury Madison & Sutro, and they ran a series of seminars to explain to the workshop and office managers why smoking restrictions were counter-production and an infringement of human rights.

Editorial Board Tours:

These were done by Gray Robertson who had proved to be especially convincing with journalists, and also by Michael L Davis an economics professor from Southern Methodist Uni in Dallas, Texas.

US Chambers of Commerce:

  • William Orzechowski was an Assistant Economics Professor from a number of universities. He held various other transient positions including working with the Chambers of Commerce and US Treasury, and he later joined the TI as an Economic Advisor. He was not a good speaker but his credentials made him worthwhile at Town meetings and Legislative appearances. [2]

Documents & Timeline

1988 Sep The Check Register for the Tobacco Institute shows one or two payments in this month:


1989 Apr 3 Diana Avedon's report notes (on one of the first months of the SWT operations):,

  • Reviewed Cannell/Florio project — acquired remainder of party affiliations — talked with Dale — sent revision
  • Talked with Kay Thomas re: ENV future| [They appear to be unhappy with ENV's IAQ reports.]
  • Talked with Paul E. re: Fox Tours in Region IV — Had conference call with Nelson — He will try to get 3rd party sponsorship — will get back to me.|
[Fox works under cover whenever possible.] |
  • Jacobson requested ACVA rep. to testify at Oregon hearing 4/3 — Jeff Seckler to testify (new ACVA member) — Matt Jacobs to talk with Jeff before he goes. [Seckler later became a whistleblower]
  • Talked w/Kay [Thomas] re: New scientists — they are ready to testify — Holcomb will accompany — I will send memo to field with resumes and sample testimony. |
  • [Jack] Shoemaker [Region VII Florida] reported on new witnesses — [Larry] Halfen and [Joe] Pedalty [of Holcomb Env. Services] — both low keyed — would use both again.
  • Talked w/Jack Kelley [John D Kelly Regional VP California] re: use of new witnesses in San Diego — no problem
  • Talked w/Kay — reported on new witnesses — CSS overview — Needs for my memo to field.
[They had become dissatisfied with ENV Services and swapped over to Consolidated Safety Services (CSS) which had been founded by ex-ENV Services manager Joland Janczewski]
  • Talked w/Larry Holcomb re: San Diego — 2 new witnesses to testify — (Walt) Decker of [Toxicology Consultancy Services] and [Jolanda] Jancezwski — OK with Saldana
[Note: Walt Decker and Jolanda Jancezwsky had just been recruited to act as witnesses for smoking/pollution inquiries, and would therefore require training.

Larry Holcomb ran his own air-testing company and worked extensively for tobacco. [4]

1989 June 22 Jim Flannery President of ENV Services writes to Kay Thomas at the Tobacco Institute (she handles the SWT group) giving a breakdown of Projects and Activities. They are working on projects with Paul Cammer's Business Council on Indoor Air (BCIA) and the development of a manual and IAQ testing strategies. [5]

1989 Sep A report on the activities of the Tobacco Institute's Communications Division:


1988 to 1993 Diana L Avedon at the Tobacco Institute ran a major media-tour operation called the Scientific Witness Teams. This operation circulated variable teams of TI staff spokespersons, contracted sham air-testing company staff, one or more Covington & Burling lawyers, and other more specialied tobacco lobbyists. They were used in two ways:

  1. As fire-fighters, to turn up in some town or region when problem about public or workplace smoking was arising, and do media interviews.
  2. To make regular media tours through various parts of the country to promote Tobacco Institute propaganda.

They were paid to visit major cities in each state, where the Regional Tobacco Institute staff would have arranged radio, TV or news coverage, and set up meetings with key officials at the local councils, counter air-ports (smoking bans) and meet with the editorial boards of media outlets. This is Diana Avedon's list of the key contractors on these group media-tours. It had the advantage of each participant getting to know the others, which introduced a collegial element to their shared message distortions.

1993 Jun 1   TI list of "Witness/Expert Appearances Scientific/Legal/Spokespersons."
Thomas Lauria
Assistant to the Tobacco Institute President,
Mike Buckley
lawyer-lobbyist with Covington & Burling,
Simon Turner
IAQ witness/executive of ACVA/HBI,
Gio Batta Gori
Corrupt science researcher at Nat. Cancer Institute
He ran the Tobacco Working Group for the industry until fired.
Bill Wordham
Tobacco Institute's Media spokesperson
Gray Robertson
Partner in ACVA then owner of HBI
Lifelong contractor for sham air-testing with TI
Peter Binnie
owner/partner of ACVA and HBI
He sold his share of HBI to Gray Robertson
Larry Holcomb
Ran sham air-testing company (airlines)
Holcomb Environmental Services
John C Fox
Lawyer lobbyist for TI via Pettit & Martin
Later also through Pillsbury Madison & Sutro
Richard Silberman
Healthy Buildings International (HBI)
spokesman on 'sick buildings'
Walter Merryman
TI Public Relations, then Issues Management
Later VP at the Tobacco Institute.
David Remes
legal strategist from the main law firm
Covington & Burling (C&B)
Frank Powell
National Energy Management Institute
(NEMI) organiser who worked for TI
Melinda L Sidak
C&B lawyer; strategist in science corruption
Worked on recruitment of scientists.
Rudy Cole
He ran restaurant front-group RSVP
He organised lobby against smoking bans.
Larry Halfen
Environmental Consultants; TI witness
An attached 1991 Witness List includes
Brennan Dawson
Media relations at the Tobacco Institute
Jeff Seckler
Exec. in charge of HBI's sham air testing
He later turned whistleblower.
Jim Goold
Lawyer sent on media tours by the Tobacco institute to train witnesses.
Joe Pedelty
worked for Holcomb Environmental Services
Did sham air-testing for TI
Jolly Ann Davidson
NASBE school/educational lobbyist,
ran "Helping Youth Decide" program for TI
Dick Wagner
GMU economics professor (Tollison aide)
Key in cash-for-comments network
Bernadette Davidson
lawyer and media lobbyist with John Fox
She was retained by TI as IAQ witness
Walter J Decker
Ran Toxicology Consultancy Services
Provide witness services for the TI
Also attached is a 1990 Witness List (page 35) includes
Bill Orzechowski
TI Director of Economic Issues
He was ex-US Chambers of Commerce
Mike Davis (Dallas Texas)
Prof of Econ. and Business Management
Witness for the Tobacco Institute.
Morris Coats
Prof Economics West Virginia.
Worked in cash-for-comments net.
The main long document has this 1989 witness list attached with the addition (to above)
Dwight Lee
economics professor and leader of
cash-for-comments economists network
David A Weeks
Boise Idaho physician, TI Witness
Partner of S James Kilpatrick in Per-Med Corp.
Alan Kassman
Ex tobacco industry scientist. Retrained
to provide legislative and media briefings.
Robert Tollison
GMU professor of economics who ran the
cash-for-comments economists network
Richard Wagner
Economics professor and TI witness.
Tollison's understudy in c-for-c network
Jack E Peterson
Industrial hygienist; ran Peterson Assoc.
Also worked for Dow Chemicals
Bestype Consulting Corporation
they ran TI's "Sick Building Syndrome"
and "Tight Building Syndrome" seminars.
Dennis A Vaughn
Lawyer-lobbyist for Tobacco Institute,
Associate of John Fox at P&M and PM & Sutro
The 1988 List includes most of above with the additions of:
Alan W Katzenstein
Biostatistician with Katzenstein Assoc.
Witness for Tobacco Institute,
David Brenton
Ran the Smokers Rights Alliance
His wife Sue had her focus on airline smoking.

[Numerous other documents detail the day-to-day organization of these groups spread over five or more years.]


1991 Tobacco Institute - PUBLIC SMOKING BUDGETS FOR MAJOR CONSULTANTS   1989/90       1991
Powell Adams and Rinehart -- Jody Powell - National Energy Management Institute (labor PR/political support)$277K$285K
Sparber & Assoc -Peter Sparber -- Business Council on Indoor Air, insurance program$67K$125K
Savarese & Assoc - James Savarese -- Labor Management Council & airline cabin air quality work $154K$100K
Wunder Ryan Cannon & Thelan - Michael Forscey - Labor lawyer, Labor Management Committee and support of BCIA $116K$85K
Fleishman-Hillard -- support for Healthy Buildings International staff on media tours$29K$130K
John Fox (Pettit & Martin) -- Payment for labor-legal seminars, briefings$113K$150K
Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker - transportation program (Thomas Donahue), HBI legal support $78K$80K     TOTALS$423K$375K