Walter Dontenwill

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

Dr. Walter Dontenwill was a German scientist at the head of the Verband der Cigarettenindustrie. He was later pensioned off by industry and his position was taken by Franz X Adlkofer. Dontenwill's Verband conducted research in Germany for all tobacco companies, but when his research indicated that tobacco caused cancer, his laboratory was abruptly closed (October 1976). He was paid an annual pension not to talk about his studies. [1][2].

Since mice were nose-breathers they were unsuited to smoke-inhalation research because they had evolved to filter out dust etc. before it reached the lungs, However he found that Syrian hamsters, which were capable of mouth-breathing smoke, were susceptible to cancer of the respiratory tract.

Freddy Homberger in the USA was doing similar research under a Council for Tobacco Research (CTR) grant. Many years later he was interviewed about his dealings with the tobacco industry, and these notes were in the industry files.[1] The report notes that ...

"... when half of his hamsters came down with cancer, the CTR insisted on redesigning the smoking machine The tobacco industry wanted them to change the whole works: Freddy's (smoking) machine did too much damage. Their ultimate judgement (was that) his hamsters did not get a clear-cut cases of cancer, and it was not the invasive sort, at any rate. RJ Reynolds did a study of the smoking machines and found no real difficulties, but they said they couldn't use their findings."

Homberger noted that both himself and other researchers were "rather naive" at that time. He was told that if he reported cancer he'd be cut off from future grants: he did reported cancer and was cut off.

At that time the German tobacco industry has a close relationship with their politicians, and so were much more open and honest in their findings. Homberger sent all remaining stock of hamsters to Dontenwill's laboratory in Germany for them to complete the series of studies. But not long after Dontenwill's lab was suddenly closed, and he was paid each year not to talk about it. The Verband staff killed all the hamsters. [3]

Dontenwill's associates

  • Ulrich Mohr, Hannover Medical School (became a adviser to BAT)
  • H Peter Harke, the Chief Chemist at the Verband in Hamburg
  • Freddy Homburger a fellow hamster inhalation researcher in the USA (honest)
  • Frank G Colby, the chief science recruiter and corrupter for RJ Reynolds
  • Edwin J Jacob, lawyer of Jacob & Medinger who acted as a legal cut-out and reporter on science for RJR.

Documents & Timeline

1962 "Experimental Investigation of the problem of the Origin of Carcinoma in the Respiratory Tract. The Effect of Tobacco Smoke Condensate and Cigarette Smoke on the Lung of the Golden Hamster." [From note by Pat Walford to Richard Selifman at PM Sept 9 1975 listing Dontenwill's publications in English] [[2]

1967 Mar 30 Memo from Helmut Wakeham at Philip Morris to his subordinates Thomas Osdene and Robert Carpenter. He had had a conversation with biomedical resarcher Freddy Homburger re the research of Walter Dontenwill at the German Verband and Ernst Wynder at the American Health Foundation. These studies carried the implication that nitrosoamine was a cancer initiator in hamsters.

He mentions that Homburger's Bio-Research Consultants are doing chronic exposure tests with hamsters - 5 secs of smoke 3 times a day (sponsored by CTR) He remarks that "This sounds more and more like what we are doing at INBIFO" [3]

[Philip Morris had secretly purchased the German research laboratory INBIFO to carry out animal and other research into smoking and health that they couldn't afford to do in the US (in case of court discovery of documents proving they knew about the harm from cigarettes).
Walter Dontenwill was head of the German tobacco manufacturing industry's Verband der Cigarettenindustrie Research Institute (aka Verband), while Ernst Wynder ran the American Health Foundation and was convinced he could produce a 'safer cigarette.' At this time both were almost certainly doing genuine research. ]

1968 Dec "Experimental Studies of the Organotropic Effect of Nitrosamines in the Respiratory Tract." [From note by Pat Walford to Richard Selifman at PM Sept 9 1975 listing Dontenwill's publications in English][[4]

1969 Oct National Cancer Institute conference on Inhalation Carcinogenesis, Galenburg, "Effects of Cigarette Smoke Inhalation on Experimental Animals". [From note by Pat Walford to Richard Selifman at PM Sept 9 1975 listing Dontenwill's publications in English][[5]

1970 Jan"Effects of Cigarette Smoke on Hamsters". [From note by Pat Walford to Richard Selifman at PM Sept 9 1975 listing Dontenwill's publications in English][[6]

1973 Dontenwill has published "Investigations on the Effects of Chronic Cigarette-Smoke Inhalation in Syrian Golden Hamsters" in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Then 18 years later Tory Payne believed he has found a flaw in the statistical analysis. (Shows that this study was seen as important to the tobacco industry.) [7]

1973 "Growth of Carcinoma in the Region of the Carlilage." (JNCI) [From note by Pat Walford to Richard Selifman at PM Sept 9 1975 listing Dontenwill's publications in English][[8]

1973Experimental Investigation of the Effect of Cigarette Smoke Exposure on Testicular Function of the Syrian Golden Hamster" (Toxicology) Also :Investigations on the Effect of Chronic Cigarette-smoke Inhalation in Syrian Golden Hamsters." [From note by Pat Walford to Richard Selifman at PM Sept 9 1975 listing Dontenwill's publications in English][[9]

1974 May "Biological and Haematological Investigations in Syrian Golden Hamsters After Cigarette Smoke Inhalation" [From note by Pat Walford to Richard Selifman at PM Sept 9 1975 listing Dontenwill's publications in English][[10]

1974 May 30 RJ Reynolds report of a meeting with Dontenwill and Chief Chemist, Peter Harke of the Cigarette Research Institute in Hamburg. They are looking at Celenese Cytrel an synthetic smoking materials. [11]

1974 June 26 The Proceedings of a Batelle/NCI symposium shows both Freddy Homburger's group at Bio-Research Consultants, and the Verband lab of Walter Dontenwill have induced cancerous changes in their hamsters through smoke inhalation. Homburgers Syrian Hamsters get for 5 days a week, 8 puffs of tobacco smoke, each puff of 2 seconds duration, every minute, followed by a longer period of fresh air (mimicking smoking patterns) These 102 smoking hamsters were compared for illness to 60 controls which didn't get smoke. By 80 to 90 weeks there were "microinvasive carcinomas in the more susceptible of the line.

He reports that this confirms and extends the observations of Dontenwill on laryngeal changes. The research was done under a CTR grant. [12] [13]

1974/75 Dontenwill has published "Bioasssays of Respiratory Carcinogens in Tobacco Smoke". He says that until a few years ago they hadn't seen tumors in experimental animals during inhalation experiments. They have now improved their smoking machine techniques in the way it is delivering smoke, and now "these methods showed a corresponding carcinogenic effect in the treated areas (larynx rather than lung) and they now allow an evaluation of the intensity of the carcinogenic activity of different smoke qualities. Like Auerback he also sees a dose-related response. (a high likelihood that this is cause and effect). [[14]


"1975 "Uptake of Carbon Monoxide in Blood of Miniature Pigs and Other Mammals" (Toxicology) [From note by Pat Walford to Richard Selifman at PM Sept 9 1975 listing Dontenwill's publications in English][[15]

1975 Mar 21 Frank Colby, the science recruiter/corrupter for RJ Reynolds writes to Edwin Jacob of Jacob & Medinger. He has a paper by two Russian scientist "Tumours in Syrian Hamsters following Transplacental Application of Cigarette Smoke Condensate" which he has shown to Dontenwill - who believes that the result can't be substantiated. He has asked his associate Ulrich Mohr to repeat the experiment. [16] [17]

1975 June 9 Dontenwill has written to Francis Roe (a life-long tobacco tout) about an earlier rat inhalation experiment done at Harrowgate which was obviously done in a sloppy manner. Roe has to admit they might have missed lesions in the larynx.[18]

1975 June 26 Peter N Lee a statistician who works almost full-time for the tobacco industry has done an evaluation of Dontenwill's paper "Effects of Chronic Cigarette Smoke Inhalation on Syrian Golden Hamsters" He has come up with dozens of pages of explanatory material pointing out how to attack the findings. He is looking for reasons why the Harrogate rat findings are so different to his own hamster findings.

It illustrates just how easily such criticism can be mounted, and the findings confused with elaborate statistical details. The archives show that about fifty copies of this reanalysis were circulated, which is an indication of the importance they attached to Dontenwill's original findings. [19]

1975 Aug 6 Peter N Lee has reviewed a Dontenwill study and is suggesting a dozen or so minor modifications to the works that TSC and TRC should send to him. This suggests that he had a contract with them to pass his report through the British industry for approval before publication. [20]

1976 April 1 Philip Morris was keen to get their hands on Dontenwill's experiments with expanded-tobacco and NSM-containing cigarettes [21].

1976 May 18 Max Hausermann at Philip Morris's EEMA office in Lausanne has sent Helmut Gaisch and Tom Osdene the latest Dontenwill Reports which the Verband had asked their member companies to check. Max Hausermann has been advise that some of the papers are 'inapt' for publication. He wants their comments quickly. [22] Peter N Lee is also doing a quick Reanalysis (hand written report) [23]

1976 Jul 22 Jodl of RJR International (from Haus Neuerburg in Koln) has sent Frank Colby a manuscript of Dontenwill's group and their comments. [24]

1976 Oct 11 A.-M Berg of the Verband library has asked Frank Colby to return "all literature, reports, and possible documentation, especially about exposure to environmental Tobacco smoke, returned "As the Research Institute of our industry has been closed.] Alan Rodgeman of RJR notes in a letter that it is doubtful whether his study on expanded tobacco (called NSM) would ever be published. [25]

1977 April Dontenwill has abstracts of two papers published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. B&W has been asked for urgent photocopies so that the tobacco industry scientists can critique his thesis. He is using Syrian hamsters which match the findings of Freddy Homburger. [26] [27]

1979 Dec 14 Liggett and Myers have had their own scientists report on Homburger's' laboratory techniques. They say it is essentially the same as Dontenwill's techniques, except that he uses more susceptible hamsters. However they admit that the cancers being produced are closely related to human lung cancer. They feel it would take two years for them to develop a baseline and use this technique to develop a test for a safer cigarette. [28]


<tdo>resource_id=25503 resource_code=dontenwill search_term=Walter Dontenwill</tdo>


  1. (N.M. Tobacco Companies Personnel List)
  2. (R. Daynard 4/29/94/C. Weisman memo)
  3. (R. Daynard 4/29/94/C. Weisman memo)