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Company lawyer says tobacco industry quashed safer cigarette

November 11, 1998
Web posted at: 2:37 p.m. EST (1937 GMT)

From Reporter Tom Watkins

(CNN) -- A former tobacco company lawyer says his company's work on a safer cigarette was killed when competitors found out.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Liggett & Myers, the maker of L & M cigarettes spent millions on what it believed was a safer cigarette. Its tests on mice were encouraging.

"They could reduce tumors 88 percent overall and they could reduce 100 percent of cancerous tumors," said former Liggett & Myers attorney Laurence Meyer.

However, the cigarette never made it into stores.

Washington state, which has put the tobacco industry on trial to recover health expenses, alleges the tobacco industry conspired not to advertise the product on the basis of product safety.

On Tuesday, Meyer told a jury that a competitor, Brown & Williamson, was dead set against the new cigarette.

"[The competitor] was just concerned that this project was idiotic and it would be ruinous for the industry and it would be ruinous for Liggett," he testified.

Ruinous because a safer cigarette would have represented an admission that other cigarettes were not safe, an admission that could have undermined the industry's defenses against lawsuits.

Meyer said the Brown & Williamson contacted Liggett & Myers general counsel Joe Greer and told him that if the company pursued work on the cigarette, Liggett would no longer be allowed to participate in industry joint defense activities that Greer considered crucial to Liggett's survival.

The tobacco industry disagrees.

"The idea they didn't want a safer cigarette on the market is ludicrous," said tobacco industry spokesman Steve McCormick. "Those companies, all of them, worked for years, spent tens, hundreds of millions of dollars trying to develop a safer cigarette."

Tobacco industry lawyers say there's no proof the research findings on mice would have translated into a safer product for humans.

They point out even the federal government would have been reluctant to allow any cigarette maker to advertise its products as safer.

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