January 27, 2005 2:36 am by Gene Borio

You can’t help but be impressed when Steven Parrish comes striding in to take the witness stand. True, he’s smaller than he appears when he fills your TV screen in some battle of wits with Ted Koppel (”Oh, you’re good!” I remember Mr. Koppel saying–approximately–when he found himself unable to pin Mr. Parrish down).

But here, obviously, we have a Citizen of the World–Lausanne, at the moment; and though DOJ attorney Gregg Schwind did pronounce the Swiss city in the accepted American fashion, you could tell he just didn’t have the easy familiarity with the word, the language, the vibrant, cultured and gorgeous location–the whole world in fact–that Mr. Parrish so subtly effused. Even Judge Kessler referred to him in passing as “this very sophisticated witness.”

He certainly cut quite a figure in court today. Whereas most male witnesses have worn your basic, traditional dark suits, Mr. Parrish showed up resplendent in a rich, light-gray suit with gold/dark mustard tie–a quietly spectacular ensemble (I think I pronounced that right) which handsomely set off his complexion and full head of grey hair.

He appears well-built, strong, about 55 years old. But many times, as the questioning wore on, his eyes seemed to lose that sparkling affability he displays so well when bantering with Ted Koppel or nodding to you in the hallway outside court. Often on the stand his eyes became cold and dark, ever-appraising, ever-calculating, and at such times, as he sat there in his exquisitely-tailored suit, he reminded me of a compact John Gotti, the deceased New York crime boss.


Which made all his name-dropping a bit unseemly, even if he was led into it by Mr. Webb’s questioning. You’d have thought Matt Myers, David Kessler, Ernst Wynder and Mr. Parrish were all weekly tennis buddies by the end of Mr. Webb’s cross.

Dr. Kessler, in their many “private, informal” chats, apparently helped convince Mr. Parrish of the need for FDA regulation. (Mr. Parrish apologized to Dr. Kessler for calling him a “prohibitionist.”)

Dr. Ernst Wynder taught Mr. Parrish all about secondhand smoke (”he called it ‘passive inhalation’”) during their 8-12 meetings over a period of “weeks or months.” Some of these meetings took place at Wynder’s American Health Foundation in Valhalla, NY, and some, apparently, in or near Westport, Connecticut. (At their first lunch, set up by Robert Pages or Thomas Osdene, Mr. Parrish learned that Dr. Wynder “had a weekend house near my home in Connecticut.”) Dr. Wynder told Mr. Parrish that the case on secondhand smoke had not been proven, that most of the studies failed to reach statistical significance, and that meta-analysis was a poor tool.

The following statement seemed quite odd to me, and Mr. Parrish has not undergone his redirect yet, so I will simply put in my notes of what Mr. Parrish said. I believe they are fairly accurate:

“[Dr. Wynder] also talked about the difference between sidestream smoke and passive inhalation. . . he thought the respiratory system had evolved to deal with pollutants in the air such as sidestream smoke.”

When hired as Vice President of Corporate Scientific Affairs in 1990, Mr. Parrish had been asked by Philip Morris Inc. Vice-Chairman of the Board R. William Murray to assess the state of science on secondhand smoke. He spoke with many scientists, he said: Drs. Borelli, Pages, Carchman, and possibly Jim Charles “and others.” And of course he had lengthy chats with Dr. Wynder (who did not receive compensation).

When Mr. Parrish reported back to Mr. Murray:

MR. PARRISH: I told him about my review of the literature, and, although I am no expert, I felt comfortable the company’s position (on secondhand smoke) was the appropriate position.

MR. WEBB: Do you have any doubt — Do you feel that you acted in good faith to try to talk to scientists to find out the state of information on secondhand smoke?


Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids chief Matt Myers helped try to pass the DeWine/Kennedy bill, and may have helped improve Philip Morris’ website. In fact, he seemed to be at least one of the people Mr. Parrish was speaking of when he said, referring to talks leading up to the June 20, 1997 Congressional Resolution,

“as I sat across the table [from them] I became convinced that people who had been extremely critical of the industry were people you could talk to . . . [T]hey were not motivated by political power, but motivated by public health concerns. . . . [I felt] some things could be resolved if we would take a less confrontational approach and listen.”

In 1999, Mr. Myers said that Philip Morris’ new website’s statement on smoking and health “falls short” because it didn’t say Philip Morris agrees with the “overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers.”

What do you know, the very next year the Philip Morris website was changed to say, “Philip Morris USA (PM USA) agrees with the overwhelming ….” etc.

You may draw your own conclusions.

And in 2004, Mr. Myers, along with Philip Morris, Sens. DeWine and Kennedy and Congressman Waxman, worked “as hard as we could” to get FDA regulation through. That “we” could have meant only Philip Morris, but it came in the testimony awfully close to the other names. One could be excused for squeezing everybody involved together into that little “we.”


This next bit didn’t really involve Mr. Parrish, but while we’re name-dropping, Mr. Webb somehow brought out the fact that Sen. Dianne Feinstein had praised Philip Morris CEO Geoffrey Bible effusively in a note sent to members of Congress. Mr. Bible had responded to Ms. Feinstein’s complaint about the Philip Morris/A.C. Little study that found smokers who die early actually save the Czech Republic money. She wrote, glowingly, “Mr. Bible’s response is one of the most extraordinary letters that I have ever received.” (I believe the Defense, like an insecure actor, is keeping a scrapbook, small as it may be, of everything nice anybody has ever said about them.)


Despite the atmosphere of rapprochement and conciliation established by Mr. Parrish’s testimony, Mr. Webb, in asking about the extensive publicity efforts surrounding Philip Morris’ website, seemed to offer a backhanded criticism of the public health community for its niggardly approach to the smoking and health issue.

MR. WEBB: Do you know of any public health organization or anyone else that spends as much time and effort and money [getting out the smoking and health message] as Philip Morris?

MR. PARRISH: I don’t know how much organizations like the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, American Cancer and others spend.

Judge Kessler had to point out to Mr. Webb that his microphone was off. No one else in the courtroom had been able to tell. “I can hear you,” the court reporter said with a smile.


  1. krueger Says:

    How was it that Wynder happened to end up as Parrish’s teacher on secondhand smoke?

    Could it be because Philip Morris had been tracking Wynder for 25 years, and knew he believed secondhand smoke was harmless:

    How did it happen that Parrish ended up with a teacher on secondhand smoke whose opinion on secondhand smoke was so convenient for the industry?

    After all, scientific consensus was the other way around. It wasn’t impossible to find a scientist who held the opinion convenient to the industry — but it would have meant a search.

    You could for instance also find a scientist who believes HIV doesn’t cause AIDS:

    But you’d have to search for that. Most scientists believe HIV causes AIDS.

    How was it that Parrish’s teacher on secondhand smoke just happened to be a scientist who believed that secondhand smoke is harmless?

    And Parrish apparently never talked to any of the scientists who believe secondhand smoke causes disease?

    Was this a “good faith effort to talk to scientists to find out the state of information on secondhand smoke”?

    Or was this a talk with a particular scientist that Philip Morris knew would give the opinion convenient to the industry?

    You be the judge.

  2. Archie Anderson Says:

    Second hand smoke IS harmless, Do you have peer reviewed legitimate scientific evidence that says other? Please share it with the redt of the world.

  3. krueger Says:

    I’m trying to remember the last time someone told me “radon IS harmless”. Or carbon monoxide is harmless. Or methyl mercury. Or lead, PCBs, dioxin, any other pollutant.

    Poor radon, it doesn’t have a massive PR campaign. No one spends millions pushing the message that radon is harmless. It doesn’t get a cheering squad. It’s regarded as just what it is: an airborne carcinogen. You’ve never heard anyone say “radon IS harmless.

    This is how we know the tobacco industry’s campaign of deception on secondhand smoke is effective. We hear it. The cheering for secondhand smoke that you don’t hear for any other pollutant, any other carcinogen, any other pathogen.

    Sometimes the cheering repeats industry PR themes almost word for word. “Not proven!”

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