TI Scientific Witness Team

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

The Tobacco Institute's Scientific Witness Team (SWT) began life as a group of four, each with very little knowledge about the subject, but willing to learn. They were also willing to be paid handsomely, and to travel around the country, They were selected because they were deemed capable of talking and explaining relatively clearly to a lay audience in media briefings, ordinance hearings, etc. They were initially given a one-day training session by Professors Nancy Balter and Sorell Schwartz at Georgetown University, under the auspices of a pseudo-scientific organisation known as IAPAG.

The team was put together by tobacco lawyer John Rupp of Covington & Burling who acted as funding channel and controller for the Tobacco Institute. To give the team some confection of scientific credibility, it was housed (theoretically) at Georgetown University's department of Pharmacology, under a new University-based consultancy service (run by some of the professors) called the Center for Environmental Health and Human Toxicology (CEHHT).

The CEHHT was also being used by Rupp and the Tobacco Institute as the nominal home of the Indoor Air Pollution Advisory Group (IAPAG) which pretended to be a genuine scientific association, but which was actually a front for a number of university professors who worked on the side for the tobacco industry. It was also financed and controlled (to a limited degree) by Covington & Burling on behalf of the Tobacco Institute.

Clarifying the CEHHT-IAPAG-SWT relationship.
CEHHTThe Center for Environmental Health & Human Toxicology was legally a division of Georgetown University's Department of Pharmacology. It was established at the university by pharmacologist Prof. Sorell Schwartz and a respiratory medicine lecturer Prof. Philip Witorsch. The day-today control of the organisation was left in the hands of the Pharmacology Department's, Dr Nancy Balter. It is important to realise that while this organisation was used to launder a wide variety of surreptitious payments to a number of Georgetown University academics, it was formally linked to the university and controlled by the scientists themselves.
IAPAGIndoor Air Pollution Advisory Group was established by tobacco lawyer John Rupp of Covington & Burling (C&B) for the Tobacco Institute and Philip Morris. IAPAG was created before the CEHHT, and the control of its agenda was divided between the industry-lawyers and the group of academics who used this vehicle as a way to launder tobacco industry payments (mainly for providing 'independent witness services'). It's focus, therefore, was entirely on helping the tobacco industry counter the health problems associated with tobacco smoke; while the CEHHT worked happily in other industries also.
  IAPAG utilised the Georgetown University's mainframe computer (then an expensive rarity) to maintain a database on research into both active and passive smoking. The members were then paid to contribute criticisms of any significant health-studies, and these were then used in courts or hearings to counter the science.
  IAPAG pretended to be a legitimate scientific association of environmental scientists. It was therefore open to cash-strapped members who were academics or scientific lobbyist from outside Georgetown Uni. IAPAG was paid both as an organised group (to run conferences, etc.) and also to act as a channel for payments made to individual members.
SWT Scientific Witness Team. Georgetown University probably never comprehended that it housed the tobacco industry's organisational structure for providing so-called 'independent scientists' as witnesses. They were available to provide the industry with a defence against smoking restrictions, and to help dismiss health damage claims in court cases. Their address was nominally at the University, and if questioned, they could claim to be members if IAPAG or even CEHHT. These lackeys were open to dealing with the media, whereas IAPAG members preferred not to appear in daylight.   SWT began in 1988 as a four-man team led by Larry Holcomb. It was projected as a flying-squad of experts who could drop in on a local ordinance hearing on workplace smoking bans, and provide counter-evidence. They were trained by IAPAG and had access to their database. IAPAG provided regular sessions of instruction so they vaguely understood what they read and could use the right words of criticism in front of a jury. Eventually the SWT numbered a couple of dozen. This operation, of course, was fully under the control of the tobacco lawyers.
The connection between SWT and the CEHHT was simply that two staff members, Jan Cook and Dee Herndon were paid to act as contacts and fronts for the group (as they did also for IAPAG). The real work, of course, was done by Tobacco Institute staff and the C&B lawyers. It's probably no coincidence that Glenn Herndon ("brother/husband"?) ran the local Smoker's Rights Alliance and was also president President of the Great American Smokers' Club

The SWT unit began with four 'scientists' who were trained in the basics of Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) problems, and usually had a background in sham testing of indoor air quality (IAQ) as their main occupation. Later extra members were added to the team.

These teams were closely related to what also became known in the tobacco industry as the "Truth Squads.

Documents and Timelines

1988 The original four members of the Scientific Witness Team were:

Not long after, a fifth member was added:

  • Alan Kassman industrial chemist with consultancy business Kassman Associates

1988 Nov 1 Dr J Fielding Douglas ('Josh') is billing Walter Woodson (Kay Thomas/Susan Stuntz) at TI for time spent as a member of the ETS Scientific Witness Team Oct 1-31 1988
20.3 hours at $150/hr + mileage and Washington DC hotel charges -- Total $3,140.23
Pay to Scientific Services Inc. [2]

1989 Jan 27 This is the Tobacco Institute's Diana Avedon's Weekly Activities report: She is in charge of scheduling witnesses to be sent to various Regional Centers ... wherever they have problems.

  • Met with Kay Thomas and discussed availability of new scientific witnesses — Kassman   ready now. (They now have on the team...) 4 ETS and 2 IAQ scientists (but these new ones...) will not be ready for at least 3-4 months (They) Need to be "road tested"
  • Updated Sci-Wit Appearances paper and started monthly calendar to accompany it
  • Made final edits to CPSP memos (CPSP = Comprehensive Public Smoking Plan - a pre-emptive strike by the industry to get its favourable laws in place)
  • Attended SAPC meeting


1989 Aug 11 Larry Holcomb has made a proposal to the Tobacco Institute to expand his Scientific Witness Team (SWT). The Tobacco Institute must have acted upon the proposal almost immediately. Only a few days later, this memo circulated within the Tobacco Institute:

The Institute currently has a team of nine scientific consultants (the so-called "second team" ) who provide expert testimony before state and local legislative and regulatory bodies, attend and report on scientific meetings, and prepare "quick and dirty" critiques of scientific reports and letters-to-editors of general and scientific publications.

The nine are:

  1. Larry Holcomb and Joe Pedelty (both of Holcomb Environmental Services)
  2. Walt Decker (Toxicology Consultancy Services)
  3. Barry Seabrook (Holcomb Environmental Services)
  4. Larry Halfen (a toxicologist from Environmental Consultants Inc)
  5. Jack Peterson (Industrial hygienist of Peterson Associates)
  6. David Weeks (Boise Idaho physician with Per-Med Corp.)
  7. George Carlo (a newcomer to tobacco, but a lifelong faux-science operator: Dow Chemicals, CTIA, water quality, etc)
  8. Maurice LeVois (Partner with Carlo in many ventures; also Environmental Health Resources in Calif.)
[Note: George Carlo was a serial operator in the field of pseudo-science; he was particularly audacious, and was willing to be an 'independent expert' on any subject the client required. Maurice LeVois was often his partner in many of his scams (also partnered with Maxwell Layard). They specialised in countering claims of harm from toxic chemicals like Agent Orange and dioxins; in fire-fighting food scares; in discounting the dangers of toxic dioxin spills into Melbourne (Aust.) water supply, etc. etc.. Carlo then shifted into downplaying nuclear waste threats and radiation leaks, and then was contracted the Cellular Telephone Industry Association (CTIA) to running the multi-million dollar research program called Wireless Technology Research, to prove the high-powered early digital GSM/D-AMPS models were proven safe (when they weren't).

Larry Holcomb coordinated both the activities and "continuing education" of this expanded Scientific Witness Team. He comments on each of them:

  • George Carlo and Maurice LeVois, relative newcomers to the team, have not yet been used as witnesses but will be available for next year's legislative season.
  • Jack 'Peterson and David A Weeks, famous for their "Truth Squad" media tours, now only rarely appear as witnesses for TI.
  • Lawrence Halfen also submitted a letter to American Journal of Physical Health (AJPH) on ETS exposure and its public policy implications.
  • Another scientific consultant who does not testify for TI, Alan Katzenstein, has produced three letters:
    • to the Journal of the American Medical Association on ETS and cervical cancer;
    • to Environmental Science and Technology on ETS components; and to
    • Business Week on excise taxes, covering social costs. [4]

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. [5]

1993 Dec The SWT are still associated with Georgetown University and are using its database. They have stored material on an ETSLIT (ETS literature) database which is being distributed by Loreen L McAlpin (The manager of Worldwide Scientific Affairs Program for Philip Morris USA Inc.. She reports that Copies of selected key papers are sent to the SWT: Jack Peterson, Lawrence Halfen, Walter Decker" http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/chm24e00/pdf