Lawrence C. Holcomb

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

Lawrence C. Holcomb, universally known as Larry Holcomb is a toxicologist who has his own sham air-testing company, Holcomb Environmental Services with one or two staff -- the most prominent of whom was Joe Pedelty. His company's pseudo testing of air quality and its willingness to attend symposia and give witness at hearings and court cases proved to be second only to Gray Robertson's Healthy Buildings International in the various ways they were able to offer services to the industry in their fight to prevent the regulation of smoking.

The company's main client was the Tobacco Institute, although other streams of cash came from individual companies in the tobacco industry -- particularly Philip Morris. Holcomb himself wrote papers, gave presentations, and acted as an expert witness supporting the industry's position, mainly that environmental tobacco smoke is not harmful and a minor component of the indoor air quality (IAQ) problem. Pedelty filled in when Holcomb wasn't available.

Holcomb's company specialised in testing air quality aboard aircraft, at a time when activists were to try to ban smoking during flights. Airports themselves were also a problem. The airlines defended the rights of their smoking staff and customers to smoke by organising Holcomb Environmental Services to take test measurements during flights using a small portable air-testing machine called PASS (Portable Air Sampling System). They then discounted the measurement of smoke, and presented their distortions as fact before hearings into airline smoking.

The airlines themselves used an even more novel technique to divert criticism. Since they couldn't partition large aircrafts between front and back (because of seat-class divisions) they put smokers on one side of the aisle, and non-smokers on the other. They then maintained that the air-flow kept the smoke within the smoking group. Holcomb's measurement were also used to support this ridiculous contention.

The opponents of on-board smoking countered with the claim that such a division was about as useful as creating "a pissing and non-pissing sides in a swimming pool." The ridiculousness of the claim was apparent.

See video of his evidence on airline smoking:


Lawrence C. Holcomb was a toxicologist who wrote a research paper that was published in the Journal Environment International. The paper served as a basis for R.J. Reynolds's ads in May 1994 asserting that in one month, a nonsmoker living with a smoker would be exposed to passive smoke equal to approximately one and a half cigarettes. About half of the funding for Holcomb's study came from the Tobacco Institute. [1] Holcomb served as an air quality consultant to the Tobacco Institute through two related companies: Holcomb Environmental Services and Holcomb Scientific Services.

The Institute used Holcomb and his senior staff as spokepersons to criticize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration when the agencies proposed regulating smoking in the workplace. Holcomb also proposed individuals who could act as additional consultants for the industry to comment on Federal OSHA proposals on workplace smoking.

Holcomb was also funded by the Tobacco Institute to write letters and he hired subcontracted consultants Walter Decker and Joseph Pedelty to engage in media tours, attend and speak at scientific conferences, and to write letters (ie.criticizing a 1990 article by Stanton Glantz and William Parmely in the journal Circulation that quantified the number of cardiac deaths that occur annually from secondhand smoke in the US).

To view Holcomb’s interview in one of the tobacco industry sponsored videos “Air Quality in Air Travel” click here.

Documents & Timeline

1988 Jan 22 Brennan Dawson Moran at the Tobacco Institute has sent Randy Thompson Public Issues Manager at RJ Reynolds a list of "the potential players and messages for ETS/IAQ and smoking restrictions." He wants some speakers for a conference/symposium.

  • GRAY ROBERTSON Standard presentation on indoor air quality runs about 30 minutes, including his slide show. A video of this familiar message is included. As I mentioned, two of Mr. Robertson's colleagues have also given this presentation in many different forums and are excellent.
Availability: As you know, ACVA is in heavy demand for legislative appearances, and Robertson is scheduled for one media tour per month in 1988. Again though, with some notice we can redirect time to accommodate. (Note: ACVA was later known as HBI)
  • DR DAVID WEEKS is a practicing physician from Boise, Idaho who travels on media tours for TI as well as other consulting work. Dr. Weeks is a strong speaker, well versed in the specifics of ETS science and indoor air quality. A credible and articulate presentation given in layman's terms.
Availability: Weeks is scheduled for a media tour each month and does some legislative work, but availability should not be a problem.
  • DR. JACK PETERSON, an industrial hygienist from Milwaukee, who conducts media tours for us as well as labor oriented briefings on ETS and indoor air quality. Peterson's forte is really smaller groups — but he would be a strong advocate in larger forums as well.
Availability: Should not be a problem. Peterson is also scheduled on one media tour per month.
  • JOHN FOX, ESQ. is a San Francisco-based management labor lawyer well versed in the case law and practical aspects of smoking in the workplace. Fox is a strong speaker and advocate before audiences of any size, as well as with the media.
Availability:' Fox travels monthly with a TI speaker on media tours. He is most flexible in scheduling.
  • ALAN KATZENSTEIN conducts media tours with a TI speaker regularly. Katzenstein is best with small groups during informal discussions, but could probably be redirected to larger audiences.
Availability: Katzenstein is readily available.
  • DR. LARRY HOLCOMB testifies on the ETS science on behalf of TI regularly. He also addressed the group in Palm Springs last week. Larry is articulate at presenting scientific and technical information in an easy and persuasive way. He's good for all size groups.
Availability: Holcomb is our primary legislative witness, where our field staff relies heavily on his abilities. Thus, he may be busy, but is still a real possibility.
    • VIDEO TAPES: I have enclosed several video tapes which look at the main topics of interest. These are proven, successes with groups of all sizes.
            Also enclosed a tape labeled "Winter Meeting" which provides a look at some media clips of each of the consultants mentioned above, with the exception of Holcomb (he's simply never done any media or video-taped work.)

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 been 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 (Environmental Health Resources in Calif. also a partner with Carlo in many ventures.)
[Note: George Louis Carlo was a serial and wide-ranging 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. He had a staff of four or so who were equally as flexible (lectures, witness services, pseudo-research, etc). Maurice LeVois was often a partner in many of his scams.
The group specialised in countering claims of harm from toxic chemicals like Agent Orange and pesticides; in fighting food-pollution scares; in discounting the dangers of toxic dioxin spills into Melbourne (Aust.) water supply, etc.
Carlo then shifted into downplaying nuclear waste threats and radiation leaks, and was then contracted by the Cellular Telephone Industry Association (CTIA) to run a $27million dollar semi-pseudo research program to prove the high-powered early digital GSM/D-AMPS models were safe. (They weren't). He then set up a business selling cell-phone radiation protection devices (which of course, didn't work but raked in the money from the gullible.)

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

  • Carlo and LeVois, relative newcomers to the team, have not yet been used as witnesses but will be available for next year's legislative season.
  • Peterson and Weeks, famous for their "Truth Squad" media tours, now only rarely appear as witnesses for TI.
  • Halfen also submitted a letter to American Journal of Physical Health (AJPH) on ETS exposure and its public policy implications.
  • Alan Katzenstein, another scientific consultant who does not testify for TI, 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. [2]

1990 Oct 11 (The Tobacco Institute's ETS Group in Action)
The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) is holding hearings on the banning of smoking on interstate buses. These are the scientific submission funded by the Tobacco Institute using the ETS Group listings of Philip Morris.

"Critical comments were filed by:"

[Every one of the above was a life-long tobacco shill.] [3]

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.]


The RICO Case against Tobacco.

1999 Sep to 2005 Sep: The USA's DC District Court issued its Amended Final Opinion in the Racketeering Influences and Corrupt Organisation (RICO) case against the US tobacco companies. This 2000 page document includes:
  • 155. A May 1, 1972 memorandum from Fred Panzer, a public relations specialist with the Tobacco Institute, to Tobacco Institute President Horace Kornegay began by describing past industry action:
      For nearly twenty years, this industry has employed a single strategy to defend itself ... it has always been a holding strategy, consisting of creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it … advocating the public’s right to smoke without actually urging them to take up the practice ... encouraging objective scientific research as the only way to resolve the question of health hazard.
    Panzer went on to discuss a proposed public relations campaign -- The Roper Proposal -- designed to persuade the public that
      "cigarette smoking may not be the health hazard that the anti-smoking people say it is because other alternatives are at least as probable" (emphasis omitted).
    The proposed campaign would suggest two such possible alternatives:
    (1) the constitutional hypothesis, i.e., smokers differ importantly from nonsmokers in terms of heredity, constitutional makeup, lifestyle, and stress; and
    (2) the multi-factorial hypothesis, i.e., other factors such as air pollution, viruses, food additives, and occupational hazards contribute to diseases for which smoking is considered a cause.

Related Sourcewatch resources


  1. Wall Street Journal, May 23, 1994

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