McGill ETS Symposium

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

The McGill ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) Symposium as it was generally known, was a tightly-controlled, scientific conference secretly organized by the Philip Morris at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec November 3-4, 1989. It purported to be organized by McGill University lecturers. It was very expensive, and the Corporate Affairs division of Philip Morris, under Andrew Whist organized the conference for a number of reasons:

  • It provided them with a training ground for recently recruited scientific consultants involved in the company Whitecoat Project (mainly its new Asian Whitecoats).
  • It was an opportunity for the industry consultants, lobbyists and executive staff to meet and exchange views, and coordinate their responses for future inquiries/hearings and activities.
  • It provided a credible forum for the release of tobacco industry-stimulated pseudo-research designed to "neutralize" two reports on secondhand smoke about to be released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
  • It had the potential to expose some genuine scientific avenues for future research into a 'less harmful cigarette', which might be worth exploring.
  • It was a junket for many executives and a paid holiday for many of their staff, and let the in-house people come in contact with the industry retainers.
  • It allowed Philip Morris to assemble a group of US scientists to provide collective support to each other under the general name, the "ETS Group".

The McGill ETS Symposium was a closed conference made up entirely of friendly scientists selected by Philip Morris. This project was linked both to their Whitecoat Project recruitment program (especially the recent Asian Whitecoats), and also to the company's ongoing use of outside consultant scientists, who needed to be kept up-to-date on the tobacco industry's problems. This was to be a meeting where the highly selective and partisan statements of expert witnesses would be coordinated for many future court cases and government inquiries.


A 1989 Philip Morris (PM) interoffice memo shows PM's Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Andrew Whist, plotting to organize a tightly controlled, tobacco industry-financed "scientific conference" about secondhand smoke. The purpose of the conference was to:

... neutralize two reports that are scheduled to be released [about environmental tobacco smoke (ETS)]: an ETS risk assessment that is being prepared by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a detailed assessment of ETS health effects under preparation at Rockefeller University ... The EPA (Risk Assessment) and Spitzer Reports would cause substantial damage unless they are somehow countered.[1]

(Note: the Spitzer Report was by Professor Carlton E Spitzer, ex-HEW director of public information and fierce smoking critic. Professor Walter O. Spitzer of the McGill medical faculty, who helped them set up the conference, had nothing to do with this report.)

The conference was hastily organized, and the arrangement with the university was made through a tobacco industry consultant, Professor Donald Ecobichon, who was on the medical faculty. He had previously worked through the lawyers Covington & Burling for the tobacco industry. [2]

Andrew Whist of Philip Morris International was at the head of Corporate Affairs, which planned the project, and he reported to Bill Murray in August of 1989:

What we have been planning over the past several days is a major international symposium which would be both closed and private until the release, shortly after the symposium, of a monograph summarizing the proceedings. Our goal, of course, is to produce an impressive document-that would have the potential of neutralizing two reports that are scheduled to be released near the end of this year. [ie. the EPA and Spitzer Reports][3]

Whist ended his memo with:

The long and the short of it is that I think we can succeed. I'd prefer not to be mired in bureaucracy -- just get on with it with my little team (security is vital) and do the job as best we can.[4]

The conference was closed because the company wanted to have full control over which scientists spoke, what they said (or, at least what was recorded that they'd said), the wording of the consensus conclusion, and the publication of the proceedings. However, Professor Ecobichon pointed out to Philip Morris that "if other members of the medical school faculty at McGill want to come, he can't very well keep them out." But they concluded that, "In fact, it probably won't hurt to have some representation there not invited by the tobacco industry." Philip Morris, at future loaded conferences, always made sure that they had one or two scientists with impeccable credentials, and no links to the tobacco industry, to provide them with a disclaimer.[5]

PM's plan at McGill was to stock the conference with scientists who were either industry consultants already or who advanced the company's views on ETS in their public statements (e.g., that "more research is needed"). Whist's memo also notes:

...What we have been planning over the past several days is a major international symposium which would be both closed and private until the release, shortly after the symposium, of a monograph summarizing the proceedings. Our goal, of course, is to produce an impressive document that would have the potential of neutralizing two reports that are scheduled to be released near the end of this year -- an ETS risk assessment that is being prepared by EPA and a detailed assessment of ETS health effects under preparation at Rockefeller University...The EPA and Spitzer reports would cause substantial damage unless they are somehow countered.

...[W]e plan to select a keynote presenter for each of the major ETS health effects issues. The keynote presentations would open by describing what is known and not known about ETS and various health effects -- for example, nonsmoker lung cancer. They would offer recommendations concerning research that should be undertaken to answer the as-yet unanswered questions. Such presentations should serve two related purposes: first, underscore the extent to which claims currently being made about ETS are unwarranted and, second, make a positive contribution to those who are prepared to approach the ETS issue objectively, by charting the course of future research.

...If we are able ultimately to get 60 or 65 scientists to participate, the cost (not including publishing costs) should be in the neighborhood of $450,000 to $500,000 -- a projection that would be substantially below the cost of both the EPA and Spitzer projects...[W]e therefore would recommend that RJR, and perhaps the TI in the United States, be asked to bear a portion of the symposium's cost. Specifically, we would suggest that PM, RJR and the TI each be asked to shoulder one-third of the symposium's cost...

...we need to make sure that the publisher we select is prepared to guarantee an almost unprecedented quick turnaround on the symposium monograph. I intend to talk to Leon Hertz about this once I get the green light from you.

...We also need to think further about the best way of distributing the monograph, making sure that we reach the appropriate audiences in just the right way before the EPA and Spitzer reports are released. These are not mere details, but of fundamental importance to the entire enterprise.[6]

Institute for International Health & Development

An organization set up by Philip Morris consultant lobbyists David A. Morse, and Paul Dietrich called the Institute for International Health & Development (IIHD) was to provide cover for the tobacco company ... both with the higher level administration of the university (although, it is by no means certain that they didn't know), and also for the publication and distribution of the proceedings. The IIHD was paid to take over the proceedings, and to release them as a text-book for courses on the indoor environment.

British American Tobacco (BAT) also knew about the Montreal Conference, although it wasn't specifically invited to contribute until it made the first approach. Paul Dietrich was paid monthly consulting fees by BAT as well as Philip Morris, and BAT understood the relationship of the McGill Conference to the recruitment and training of Whitecoats in Europe and in Asia. [7]

Within Europe the bulk of independent consultants have been recruited by an organization called Association for Research on Indoor Air (ARIA) acting for Philip Morris, but without other industry support. As yet the organization has not achieved any great success in influencing scientific or public opinion on ETS, perhaps because it has little credibility and its objectives seem to relate to quantity rather than quality. Attempts are now being made to extend the organization on a worldwide basis and a very large meeting on indoor air/Environmental Tobacco Smoke is scheduled for November 1989 in Montreal.

Sale of the Proceedings

A couple of years after the conference Paul Dietrich attached the the following to the bill for his services for BAT:

"I am attaching with this memo, a copy of a bill for my monthly consulting fees from June 1, 1992, through September 30, 1992. During this period of time, please make out your check payable to Paul Dietrich, 500 K Street S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003. For the period of October 1, 1992 through December 31, 1992, you will be receiving a bill for my monthly consulting fees from Squire, Sanders and Dempsey"

But a few months later, the cosy relationship between Dietrich and BAT dissolved. There was a series of bitter letters between the U.S. law firm Covington and Burling, BAT, and Dietrich over a bill for US$30,000 towards the translation of McGill conference proceedings book. A 1993 letter from Sharon Boyse of BAT to Matthew Winokur of Philip Morris states:

You may be aware from speaking to Cesar and Aurora that at our last joint media seminar in Venezuela, we found it necessary to obtain a replacement for Paul Dietrich's usual WHO presentation, and Bob Tollison agreed to step in at the last minute. In the course of giving the presentation, he produced more facts and figures on the WHO budget in writing than we have ever had out of Dietrich in some time of paying him an expensive consultancy fee!...

[Professor Robert Tollison of George Mason University was an economist and professional lobbyist who ran the Cash for Comments Economists Network for Philip Morris, with the administrative help of James Savarese

We have subsequently had severe problems with Dietrich in relationship to the Spanish translation of the McGill proceedings, which Aurora can also fill you in on if you are unaware. We, for one, will never use him again in this or any other respect. We therefore desperately need an alternative for media work and hopefully one that will publish something more substantial than Dietrich's usual stereotyped press articles.

Tollison has agreed to carry out more work on the WHO and to publish, at our instigation, a collaborative effort with Digby Anderson of the Social Affairs Unit, on the WHO and other similar organizations. We are funding this publication through the SAU. However, understandably, Tollison is concerned about using Dietrich's data for a publication, especially given that in Dietrich's present state of mind he could well take offense and cause a major international incident!

Dietrich has been adamant ever since that he never received any money from the industry and he has stated that there was 'no evidence of a check paid to him'.[citation needed]

Some of the participants at the conference included:

The formation of the "ETS Group"

Immediately after the McGill ETS Symposium Philip Morris put together a collective of corrupt scientists who could provide mutual support when any of them came under attack -- and could "peer-review" each other's studies to give them credibility.

1989 Dec 20 Philip Morris's Mayada Logue has reported on the Tobacco Institute's ETS Group meeting.

ETS activities ongoing by Tobacco Institute (TI):

  1. TI has a response for the Judson Wells paper in Occupational Health and Safety.(Wells was American Lung Association)
  2. Maurice LeVois and S James Kilpatrick are preparing a response to the Slattery study; it will question the data and point out flaws in the methodology. Lawyer John Rupp (C&B) recommends a full blown article rather than a letter to the editor.
  3. Mark Reasor is preparing a response to the American Journal of Public Health.
  4. Paul Switzer, statistician from Stanford University is preparing a critique of the Meta-Analysis/risk assessment. (Meta-analysis is a technique statisticians use to combine the results of many studies to improve the statistical-reliability of their outcomes. The industry attacked the methodology constantly.)
  5. Marvin Goldman, a toxicologist expert (UC Davis) in the field of radiation is preparing a report on the radon issue. (Radon also produced lung cancer, so the tobacco industry beat up the threat of radon to provide an alternative to tobacco-generate lung cancer.)
  6. Lance is preparing an article on Benzene in response to the [Lance A] Wallace (anti-smoking) article. ['Lance' may have been a mix up of stenographer.]
  7. Barry Lieberman is preparing a proposal on how to handle the issue of science being driven by politics; his proposal will be ready in Feb.
  8. Irving I Kessler (U Marylands) is preparing a review of respiratory disease and cancer.
  9. Jarnail Singh (Stillman College) is preparing a proposal on ETS in indoor environment;
  10. Oak Ridge National Laboratory work to be published as a CIAR monogram.

They also considered a number of new proposals, and a Tobacco Institute book with chapters by various tobacco scientists:

  1. Gio B Gori No.1. A project on 'confounding variables' and their impact on lung cancer and childhood respiratory illness. (possibly through CIAR). "These should be relatively quick studies resulting in several papers."
  2. Gio B Gori No.2 A white paper on ETS that he would then send out to other scientists for their review. After incorporating their comments, he would then recirculate the revisions until an acceptable document is obtained with up to 150 co-author names. Cost $200 - 250,000.
  3. Tobacco Institute's EPA ETS Compendium which will have chapters by Gray Robertson, Max Laird, Joseph Fleiss, Janail Singh, Mark Reasor, Ron Hood and Alan Done (a pediatrician). [1]

The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) is holding hearings on the banning of smoking on interstate buses. These are the Tobacco Institute submissions: Critical comments were filed by

Related industry documents

  • Montreal ETS Symposium Invitation letter to Presenters/Discussants September 28, 1989. Does not disclose tobacco industry organization or sponsorship; authors were tobacco industry consultants.
  • McGill University ETS Symposium Post-symposium PM memo dated that says the McGill ETS Symposium was "the most careful and thorough review of the science on ETS ever conducted," that it "was done by 82 leading medical and indoor air scientists and researchers from around the world" who "concluded that "the published data, when critically examined and evaluated, are inconsistent with the notion that ETS is a health hazard." Says Philip Morris must use the material "to block attempts by governments to establish public policies against smoking based upon ETS."


  1. Whist A, Philip Morris ETS Symposium Memorandum. August 8, 1989. 3 pp. Bates No. 2500017043/7045
  2. Whist A, Philip Morris ETS Symposium Memorandum. August 8, 1989. 3 pp. Bates No. 2500017043/7045
  3. Whist A, Philip Morris ETS Symposium Memorandum. August 8, 1989. 3 pp. Bates No. 2500017043/7045
  4. Whist A, Philip Morris ETS Symposium Memorandum. August 8, 1989. 3 pp. Bates No. 2500017043/7045
  5. Ward ME, R.J. Reynolds Coordinating Committee Report. Bates No. 515541696/1701
  6. Andrew Whist, "ETS Symposium", Philip Morris, Bates No. 2023034633, August 8, 1989.
  7. Status: Montreal ETS Conference Program Agenda. September 28, 1989. Bates No. 2500048487/8490
  8. Status: Montreal ETS Conference Program Agenda. September 28, 1989. Bates No. 2500048487/8490

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