The Curious Case of Irwin Billick

November 1, 2004 12:37 am by Gene Borio

According to the DOJ’s Proposed Findings of Fact,

2094. The stated mission of the Center for Indoor Air Research (”CIAR”) was to be a focal point organization to sponsor and foster quality, objective research in indoor air issues with emphasis on ETS and to effectively communicate pertinent research findings to the broad scientific community. While Philip Morris, Lorillard, and R.J. Reynolds represented that CIAR was independent, its by-laws revealed otherwise. The by-laws required that charter members be tobacco companies; they dictated that only charter members have the power to choose CIAR’s officers; and, significantly, gave charter members the exclusive power to decide what research the organization would fund.

Ms. Eubanks in her redirect of Mr. Rupp Thursday referenced the little-known story of the first choice to head CIAR–Irwin Billick (another name not mentioned in the DOJ’s Findings of Fact.)

As of February 1, 1988, Thomas Osdene, Richard McFarland and others seemed to feel Billick was extremely well-qualified, and a good fit for the Executive Directorship of the CIAR; contractual negotiations seemed to be going quite well.

On Dec. 21, 1987, McFarland wrote to Osdene:

You and I agreed on Friday, December 18 that you would speak directly with Irv about duties, authority and responsibility of the Director of the CIAR. You iill also talk with John Rupp about an employment contract and benefits packagte for Billick. I have already told Billick that we can see our way clear to going to $120,000 and he has modified his request of $125,000 to the extent that he will wait until he has seen what is included in the benefit package.

On Feb. 1, Osdene wrote a letter to Billick that seemed to do everything but dot the i’s of his contract, detailing the expenses Billick would be paid for the move to DC:

As part of its agreement to employ you as Executive Director, the Center for Indoor Air Research, Inc. (the “Corporation”) will pay directly or reimburse you for the following expenses in connection with your relocation to the Washington, D.C. area.

But on Feb. 4, Billick wrote a letter to Osdene expressing some concerns about how independent CIAR could be with funding power over projects resting in the hands of the CIAR Board–made up exclusively of tobacco company representatives. Billick, who had worked closely with the gas industry and its research program, knew whereof he spoke, when, in his letter he said,

Many other industries have been faced with a similar situation, including the natural gas industry, with which I am associated, and they have also created research institutions with goals and objectives similar to the tobacco industry. However, they have all taken the critical step of removing themselves from the veto position by turning over the funds, and the management authority to the institution to accomplish the approved program plan. At the same time they participate in the sciencific aspects of the organization while insisting and receiving accountability. The net result is good quality research which addresses the scientific concerns of the industry while still maintaining the indepenence needed for objectivity and credibiltiy.

But this was nowhere near CIAR’s proposed structure. Billick writes:

What has been proposed for the CTAR removes all authority for accomplishing the objectives from those that have the responsibitiy and places almost absolute control in the hands of the Board and allows individual sponsors to withdraw their commitment on a project by project basis. . . . At best what is now being proposed is a highly paid project monitoring organization, a task which could be more effectivly accomplished in-house. Such an organization and its output would never be accepted or taken seriously by the scientific community or by those who would use the research results in setting ETS policy. The net effect would be not only a loss of money for the industry, but a very frustrated CIAR staff whose standing and reputation within the scientific community would be suspect.

Billick finished the letter affirming his excitement about the prospect of being Executive Director of CIAR.


Osdene apparantly never responded to the letter, nor did he respond to a subsequent phone call. The next thing Billick knew, he got a letter from Osdene offering his regrets that Billick had declined the position:

On behalf of the directors of the Center for Indoor Air Research, (”CIAR”), I want to thank you for the time that you spent considering our offer to serve as CIAR’s executive director. I regret that you have declined to accept our offer.

Osdene went on to defend the CIAR structure:

It would have been possible, as you suggested, to have organized the CIAR in a manner that minimized the involvement of the Board of Directors in reviewing individual research proposals and in identifying researchers qualified to undertake the projects described in the proposals. But a major deficiency of that approach is that it would not have taken full advantage of the scientific expertise of CIAR’s directors.

In the final analysis, acceptance of research results within the scientific community and by members of the public depends largely, in my view, on the quality of the research and the qualifications of the investigators. Our decision to preserve a substantial role for the Board of Directors in considering the quality of research proposals and the qualifications of candidate investigators was not meant to suggest, and certainly did not stem from, a lack of confidence in your abilities. Rather, it reflected simply a decision our part to take full advantage of the substantial scientific expertise CIAR’s directors have with respect to environmental tobacco smoke and indoor air quality.

I can assure you that the CIAR Board of Directors will make decisions on individual research projects, and with respect to candidate researchers, solely on the basis of scientific merit. The use of any other criteria would, of course, be both inappropriate and self-defeating. In addition, researchers will be encouraged to publish their results without limitation.

Billick was nonplussed, and sent a return letter wherein he said he had never declined any offer; in addition he was confused about Mr. Rupp’s role in the proceedings:

I have received your letter of February 24, 1988 and I must admit that I am somewhat mystified by its contents. Just to set the record straight, I never declined an offer to serve as the executive director of the Center for Indoor Air Research (CIAR). Indeed, an offer never was made either verbally or in writing by anyone associated with the CIAR. I was expecting, such an offer to be transmitted to me through Dick McFarland, who I assummed (sic) was your sole agent in this matter. I was informed by Mr. Rupp, at one point, that the Board of Directors had decided to terminate negotiations with me on this position. I never have been certain what Mr. Rupp.’s role or authority was in this matter, but, I took his information at face value.

Up until that time I had assummed that our negotiations were proceeding satisfactorily. . . .

However, as some operational points needed clarification, I sent you a letter on February 4, 1988 so that you and the rest of the Board would clearly understand what issues concerned me. This letter was meant to be a basis of discussion until we all understood the issues and could arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution. I regret that you never took the opportunity to respond to my letter or subsequent phone call to discuss these issues.…


U.S. Exhibit 50975 is a July 19, 1988 memo announcing a CIAR meeting. It is addressed to the six directors:

  • Dr. Osdene and Dr. Pages from Philip Morris
  • Dr. Burger and Dr. Green from R.J. Reynolds
  • Dr. Spears and Dr. Norman from Lorillard.
  • U.S. Exhibit 25581 is the minutes of perhaps the first meeting of the CIAR Board of Directors, and according to the minutes, Don Hoel (Shook Hardy) and John Rupp (Covington & Burling) were present as well as other lawyers.

    The meeting was held at the offices of Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Kansas City. The minutes reflect that the Board of Directors welcomed the director of CIAR, Dr. Max Eisenberg. Dr. Eisenberg would remain Executive Director of the Center for Indoor Air Research until its dissolution in 2000.

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