The head of the Council for Tobacco Research acknowledged Thursday that his organization acted as an industry "conduit," steering research grants to favored scientists in hopes of getting results that reflected positively on the industry.
But he insisted that most of the researchers who did work for the council were "assured complete scientific freedom."
Dr. James F. Glenn, chairman of the industry-funded council, which awards scientific grants to researchers studying the relationship between smoking and health, told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health and the environment that the work supported by his organization "is performed by independent scientists" and that the results are made available to the public.
The council "does not consider whether the research will be favorable or not favorable," he said. "We are scientists. . . . Industry exercises no control."
Under questioning by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the subcommittee, however, Glenn admitted that the council had bypassed a scientific advisory board of outside experts to award "special project" grants requested by industry lawyers who wanted research that could bolster the industry's position in future litigation.
Glenn said, however, that the council did so because of its own expertise in administering grants. The existence of such "special projects" was reported in Thursday's Los Angeles Times.
Glenn, who also serves as chief of staff at the University of Kentucky Medical College Hospital, said the council has awarded more than $220 million to finance more than 1,380 research projects.
Waxman released a series of documents written in 1953 and 1954 by officials at the public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton indicating that the council was created solely to counter public concerns over early studies linking cigarettes to health problems.
One Hill & Knowlton memo advised that "the underlying purpose of any activity at this stage should be reassurance of the public. . . . It is important that the public recognize the existence of weighty scientific views which hold there is no proof that cigarette smoking is a cause of lung cancer."
One of the firm's major suggestions was the formation of a special research committee.
"The word 'research' should be included in the name of the committee to establish the fact that the group will carry on or sponsor fundamental scientific research," the memo said.
Moreover, it recommended that the group have a director who was "a medical research authority of unquestioned national repute" and an advisory board of "men whose integrity is beyond question."
The first public statement of the committee should be "designed to reassure the public that the industry's first and foremost interest is the public health (and) there is no proof of the claims which link smoking and lung cancer. . . ."
Waxman said this "paints a disturbing picture of public relations masquerading as science." In response, Glenn asked Waxman:
"Are you impugning my integrity?"
In an exchange with Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), another Capitol Hill tobacco foe, Glenn said he believed that smoking is a "risk factor" for lung cancer, but refused to acknowledge there was a "causal" relationship between the two.
"I reject your premise that we are a biased organization, I reject the premise that smoking causes cancer and I reject the inference that our activities have been to obscure the truth," he said. "On the contrary, they've been dedicated to developing scientific truth.
"No one has been able to demonstrate that smoking causes any disease," he added. He acknowledged that 80% of lung cancers occur among smokers but noted that many smokers do not develop lung cancer and 20% of lung cancers occur among nonsmokers. "Smoking is a risk factor. What we've got to find out is why the cell goes wrong."
"Do you believe smoking causes cancer?" Wyden asked.
"No sir," Glenn replied.
"Do you believe smoking is an addiction," Wyden asked.
"No sir," Glenn replied.
"You are in isolation," Wyden said, citing the numerous medical experts and public health organizations who disagree.