To examine expert testimony offered by otolaryngologists in defense of the tobacco industry and to assess whether opinions rendered were congruent with evidence in the scientific literature.
Data sources include publically available expert witness depositions and trial testimony of board-certified otolaryngologists employed by the tobacco industry in defense of lawsuits brought by smokers suffering from head and neck cancer. The cases, adjudicated in Florida between 2009 and 2014, focused on whether smoking caused the plaintiff’s cancer.
The study includes nine legal cases of upper aerodigestive tract cancer involving six otolaryngologists serving as expert witnesses for the tobacco industry. Cancer sites included larynx (5), esophagus (2), mouth (1), and lung (1). Five of the six otolaryngologists consistently, over multiple cases, offered opinions that smoking did not cause the plaintiff’s cancer. By highlighting an exhaustive list of potential risk factors, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), alcohol, asbestos, diesel fumes, salted fish, mouthwash, and even urban living, they created doubt in the minds of the jurors as to the role of smoking in the plaintiff’s cancer. Evidence shows that this testimony, which was remarkably similar across cases, was part of a defense strategy shaped by tobacco’s law firms.
A small group of otolaryngologists regularly serve as experts on behalf of the tobacco industry. Examination of their opinions in relation to the scientific literature reveals a systematic bias in interpreting the data relating to the role played by smoking in head and neck cancer causation.
*This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.