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Researcher Admits 80% of Smokers Don't Get Cancer

November 28, 1985|From Associated Press

SANTA BARBARA — A researcher who testified in a $1-million wrongful death suit that smoking causes lung cancer later admitted "perhaps 80%" of smokers do not contract the disease.

Dr. Michael B. Shimkin acknowledged under cross-examination Wednesday that "most people who do smoke--even heavy smokers--do not get lung cancer."

Shimkin refused when pressed by R. J. Reynolds Co. attorneys to set the number at 90%, but said it is "a heavy number, perhaps 80%. . . . This is one of the many questions in medicine, why some of us have resistance to this and others do not."

However, Shimkin stuck by his original statements that studies have shown cigarettes cause lung cancer. He said many smokers in a study cited by Reynolds attorney Robert Weber may have had latent cancer cells, but died before they developed into clinical cases of cancer.

"Most of those, if they had lived long enough, would have developed lung cancer," Shimkin said.

Weber, in a harsh attack on Shimkin's testimony, cited numerous studies, including two which he claimed showed smokers were less likely to contract lung cancer than non-smokers. Shimkin said he had never heard of such a conclusion.

Weber cited one research project that concluded that no matter what age a person started smoking, the onset of lung cancer still occurred at 64 or 65. Shimkin acknowledged the results.

The same study showed a lower rate of lung cancer for those who inhaled deeply than those who did not, Weber said.

Shimkin said the results were scientifically unreliable because they were based on smokers' answers on a questionnaire, rather than observed behavior.

Shimkin, who began researching the connection between smoking and cancer in 1937, said he worked with a committee that produced an authoritative report on the subject in 1957.

"And what did the committee conclude?" asked Reynolds' attorney Paul Monzione.

"The sum total of scientific evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that cigarette smoking is a causative factor in the increasing incidence of (lung cancer)," Shimkin replied.

Shimkin has spent 30 years working for the U.S. Public Health Service and continues to work as a consultant. His testimony paved the way for submission of the landmark 1964 surgeon general's report on smoking and cancer as an exhibit in the $1-million lawsuit by survivors of John Mark Galbraith against the tobacco company that manufactured the cigarettes he smoked.

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