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RJR Scientist Testifies on Safety

TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

An R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. researcher, who has been a key witness in several lawsuits that the tobacco industry has won, testified Monday that a single charcoal-broiled steak contains the same amount of the toxic chemical benzopyrene as is found as in the smoke of 600 cigarettes.

David E. Townsend, RJR’s vice president for product development, made the statement as he testified here about efforts that Reynolds and other cigarette manufacturers undertook to make their products safer during the last four decades.

Townsend, who has worked on cigarette design at Reynolds for 20 years, said that RJR and other companies made numerous attempts to selectively reduce or eliminate hazardous elements in cigarettes--including benzopyrene, a carcinogen that has been known to be in cigarette smoke for many years. He said that the amount of benzopyrene had been reduced to a very low, safe level.

However, Townsend said that industry scientists concluded by 1980 that the wisest course of action was to try and reduce all the potentially hazardous components in cigarettes simultaneously, because “selective” reductions sometimes had the unintended consequences of generating other problems.

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Townsend, who has a doctorate in biochemistry from Florida State University, said that the industry had been successful in reducing tar and nicotine levels over the last four decades, using a variety of techniques, including filter ventilation, faster-burning paper, porous paper and reduced circumference.

His testimony was designed to rebut allegations made by the state of Minnesota and its co-plaintiff, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota, that the industry knowingly sold a hazardous product and had long maintained a “gentleman’s agreement” to restrain the development of a safer cigarette that could have helped prevent thousands of smoking-related deaths.

Townsend, 50, is the first scientist to testify for the cigarette companies in the Minnesota case, where they are being sued for $1.77 billion to compensate the plaintiffs for money spent treating sick smokers, as well as damages for alleged violations of state antitrust and consumer fraud laws.

This is the seventh tobacco-industry trial in which Townsend has testified, and he apparently has impressed jurors in earlier cases. For example, Laura T. Barrow, the forewoman of a Jacksonville, Fla., jury that found RJR not liable in May 1997 for the death of smoker Jean Connor, described Townsend as the witness who “made the biggest impact” on jurors.

Townsend also told the jurors here, as he did in earlier cases, about Reynolds’ unsuccessful effort to market Premier cigarettes, which were test-marketed in the late 1980s as safer than other cigarettes because they heated tobacco rather than burned it. Townsend said Premier failed because consumers did not like the cigarette.


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