Huber was a scientific researcher for the tobacco industry for many years. His emphysema project at Harvard was paid for directly by the tobacco law firm of Shook, Hardy and Bacon. When Ron Motley approached Huber with internal documents that described his project as a public relations ploy, Huber became a witness in the Medicaid cases against the tobacco industry. His story outlines how the tobacco industry controlled and manipulated scientific research.
Q. What did you do for the Tobacco Industry?
Huber: I don’t think I did anything for the Tobacco Industry. They came to us initially when I was at Harvard and asked us if we would do research with Industry support. This was in the 1970’s and we said no.
Q. You said no.
Huber: Well, we eventually said no and they were very persistent and they kept coming back and we already had support from NIH and we had a program going and we mistrusted them and initially we said no. I’m a chest physician and I sat day after day in the chest clinic taking care of patients with emphysema and chronic bronchitis and lung cancer and I couldn’t help them. They had diseases that by the time they came to us for medical help, there was very little I could do for them. I could make them comfortable but I couldn’t fix the problem. I thought about it. I thought these people wouldn’t be here if they didn’t smoke. So I thought we have to find solutions. The problem was growing and we needed solutions. This was an industry who made a product that caused disease and if we were going to do anything about it I thought we had to work with that industry.
Q. So you were working on specifically the link between smoking and lung cancer and emphysema?
Huber: Mostly emphysema.
Q. So, step back for a minute, with what you know now, how do you see your role in their strategy– why they were coming to you or what they did….
Huber: It’s amazing. Because if you would have asked me that question a year or two ago, I would have given you a different answer but I think the opportunity to see the liberated documents, as they are sometimes called, has changed my perception of the Harvard Project and what was meant by it.
Q. And so you see yourself now as?
Huber: I asked a colleague of mine that was at the Harvard Project that recently. I said: “How could we have been fooled? We’re supposed to be half-way intelligent, smart people and we were used. We were lied to. How could we let that happen?” And he gave the analogy of a card game. We were scientists, we were clinicians. We were trying to find answers to a very serious problem. We came to the table playing by, what I would say, were honest rules. We wanted to find answers. They had a product. We wanted to work with them to understand it and it was like a card game where we had our cards and they had theirs but they knew every card in the deck. They knew which cards we had. They knew the cards that were going to be played and every now and then they would give us a card. It was a plan and it was not honest.
Q. You were a pawn in their grand strategy?
Huber: We were used. I think we were used in a strategy. Within the past year, for example, no one had induced emphysema in animals and that was one of two or three of the primary points of the Harvard Project, to develop experimental animals. And we worked night and day for years and we did develop emphysema in animals and then I learned, 25 years later that they had already done this within the industry. And done it before the Harvard Project started and didn’t tell us about it. We spent hundreds of hours of independent research and good scientist time chasing rabbits down blind alleys that we didn’t have to do. So that’s what I mean by were used.
Q. They say the public knew all the risks concerned with smoking. They say the public health community knew and you’re saying they already had research far beyond what anybody else outside had?
Huber: Absolutely. Research that was not shared with the outside community. Research was not shared with the very investigators that they funded.
Q. So they lied when they say that?
Huber: Well, we knew the risks. That’s why we started the research. As I said,I saw patients with emphysema and I couldn’t help them. I felt they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t smoke and people kept on smoking. So we wanted to understand this process and get a solution. Could we intervene somehow sooner in this disease? Could we find a way to help these people.
Q. I guess what I’m getting at, I want to make sure I understand. You are saying they spent in the end, millions of dollars assisting your research in various ways and particularly in the Harvard Project looking for a cause between smoking and emphysema. What was the mechanism there?
Q. And they already knew.
Q. But they never told you?
Q. Now that you know in hindsight and you reflect on what lawyers may have told you from the tobacco industry, do you now understand what was going on?
Huber: Not totally. We’ll never know totally all of the internal documents. In this past year or two, so many of them have come out it’s been like a tapestry. New pieces are put into place and a much different final picture emerges. They knew things that they didn’t share with the outside world not just us, NIH, hundreds of millions of federal dollars working on nicotine addiction, working on cardiovascular diseases, emphysema, cancer and so on. They had information in their internal documents and internal research labs that was 15 years ahead of the outside world and they let us and they let others, Federal Government, go forward and spend hundreds of millions of dollars, countless hours in research that didn’t need to be done if they had opened their doors. And the tragedy of that is a lot of money and a lot of wasted research time and careers. But the real tragedy is all the lives that have been lost.
Q. You met with one of the architects of the legal strategy. Who was he and what did he tell you?
Huber: Well when we were initially approached by the Industry to do research there were no lawyers. We went to the Harvard administration and they encouraged us to do this. There were other initiatives by Harvard for other industry programs and so we went forward and before it really began the lawyers entered and it was primarily the lawyers from Kansas City from Shook, Hardy and Baccon. The senior lawyer was David R. Hardy and he’s been considered by many the architect of the grand strategy.
Q. And he explained it to you didn’t he?
Huber: Well to a degree. Things would come out from time to time he would talk about buying time. We heard some of the executives talk about buying time and we didn’t quite know what they meant initially, but bit by bit some of this has come out and again the internal documents have really helped understand this.
Q. They said buying time in what context?
Huber: I think different things. They wanted to buy time with the labels. They wanted to pass the liability from the Industry onto the consumer. That was a transition that took several years.
Q. They talked about that?
Huber: They talked about that in the early 1970’s. Today in liability litigation every consumer knows the risks as they say. It’s right on the label. They know that tobacco causes cancer and emphysema and so on.
Q. And they told you their strategy was let’s get rid of our liability by putting a label on the package therefore the consumer assumes the liability.
Huber: With time. And they had to buy time for that to take effect. And time for other things. Time to divert, diversify their profits into other non-tobacco industries. Time to diversify their markets overseas in the third world, time to adjust.
Q. David Hardy talked to you about this?
Q. He was part of or you were familiar with the Committee Of Counsel as I understand it.
Q. How did you become familiar with Committee Of Counsel and maybe you could describe what it was in your understanding.
Huber: Well, when I first met Hardy I got a lecture. He had an enormous ego and took great satisfaction in being a leader, explaining how things worked. For example in the Harvard Project he said, “Not all the companies will sponsor it because we have to worry about anti-trust litigation. So one company will drop off.” He said it’s the same way with the Committee of Counsel. The same way with the Tobacco Institute. It’s the same way with all our other organizations. One company is always not officially there although they can have an adhoc membership.
Q. To give the appearance that they weren’t conspiring.
Huber: Right to avoid the anti-trust.
Q. So that was all a setup? They just made sure one company, one lawyer wasn’t there and then they could say —
Huber: They took turns. It ended up it was American’s turn to sit out on the Harvard Project but in the end they wanted to be part of it so I think the Harvard Project may be one the very few things that they all sponsored or all took part in.
Q. And in the course of your relationship with them, did you ever meet Steve Parrish?
Huber: Well throughout the Harvard Project the lawyers were frequently there. And then more often than not it would be David Hardy himself or some of his colleagues. But in the course of that, yes I did meet Steve Parrish.
Q. And did he ever tell you he was a member of the Committee of Counsel or that he was involved in any way, what was his role?
Huber: No. My interaction with him was minimum. We were asked to come out there and we were invited to a Sunday School class and that was about the interaction I had with Steve Parrish.
Q. You were invited to a Sunday School class?
Huber: He taught a Sunday School class and we were there over the weekend and we went to a Sunday School class.
Q. So it wasn’t tobacco related? You don’t remember having any scientific or —
Huber: Not extensively, no.
One thing I learned which was amusing and a little bit offensive but it came out somewhere recently that every scientist that the Industry had any contact with had a keeper, within the Industry, a lawyer, and they funded a lot of research around the country and it was millions of millions of dollars but apparently every scientist in any one of their research projects had a keeper and Steve Parrish was not my keeper.
Q. Oh, he was not your keeper. Who was your keeper?
Huber: My keeper was David R Hardy.
Q. The big guy.
Huber: The big guy.
Q. Because you were Harvard, you were a thoracic surgeon–
Huber: A chest physician.
Q. –chest physician. You were legitimacy from their point of view.
Huber: I guess so.
Q. But when they paid you they sent the checks–
Huber: Well, they never paid me. They’ve always paid, we’ve had grants from them. Research support. I’ve never worked for the Industry. I’ve never worked for the law firms. They’ve paid the universities that I’ve worked for about 25 years ago at Harvard the checks came in made out to me and Harvard University jointly. It was so unusual. We kept records of those and even Harvard asked that we photograph them because it was new to their experience. The checks would come in and I would have to go over and sign the checks over and then Harvard University would deposit them. We would use them for our research effort.
Q. It would say Gary Huber Harvard University.
Q. And then later on you find out there was a method to this unusual madness.
Huber: Apparently. I was subpoenaed to give a deposition and they claimed proprietary rights to my mind, my opinions and everything back to 1972. I found that rather amazing and shocking but that was part of it.
Q. And they produced the check that they paid for the rights to your mind–
Huber: Well they produced things for the court and I didn’t get an opportunity to see all of those but they claimed the right to my mind back to 1972.
Q. Because you endorsed these checks.
Huber: Yes. I guess so.
Q. You said that you never worked for them. You worked for the institution, Harvard University. The money came from a law firm?
Huber: No. The money I think was treated like an NIH grant or any other research support. We had more money from NIH in the end than we had from the Industry but with grants a certain percentage of your time and effort and so on is maybe paid for by a grant but the funds came to Harvard from each individual company through Shook, Hardy and Bacon.
Q. So, the companies made sure that you were paid by a law firm correct? So we assume now that’s because they were going to assert attorney-client privilege correct? Even though you are also getting support from the federal government at the same time correct?
Huber: And we were publishing the results in the public domain and scientific period literature.
Q. Did they ever ask you to comment on things?
Huber: In more recent years to a very, very limited extent, and I mean a very limited extent, they might ask that but basically no.
Q. But they were fond of quoting you or sending people to you for interviews–
Huber: With lawyers.
Q. What do you mean with lawyers?
Huber: Well, no one ever came without a lawyer. I mean it was just, in my experience in academia it’s unparalleled and unprecedented. Every time someone came up to see us there would always be a lawyer present.
Q. Did you ever ask why?
Huber: Sure, of course. I mean it was so unusual we asked why and that’s just the way it was. That was the response, “This is what we have to do.”
Q. You mean when a reporter would come to talk to you or a writer or —
Huber: Yeah, sure. We would talk to people on our own and, but you know if it had to do with a project or whatever and they got wind of it there was a lawyer present.
Q. Why have you in a sense changed sides. I mean you were supported by them directly or indirectly over a number of years. They liked you. You had a long-term relationship, in fact didn’t you have a relationship with at least one of the CEO’s at one point in one of the tobacco companies?
Huber: Well, we had a long-term relationship and I stuck with them longer than I wish I had. But I was still trying to find the answers. People are still dying in greater numbers than ever before from tobacco related diseases.
There were two things. I attended an open meeting at Duke University on the Eclipse nicotine delivery device. It’s a new cigarette that doesn’t burn. And I sat there quietly in the audience and it dawned on me that a lot of time had been lost, by the ending of the Harvard Project, ten or fifteen years of scientific progress had been set back when I saw that presentation. And then very shortly thereafter I got a call from Ness Motley and they said we have internal documents from the Tobacco Industry we would like to show you.
I’d never met them before and they came up and visited us and brought us down to Charleston. My family and I were going to go on a vacation and we couldn’t, it was our only chance to go on a vacation with our children that year and we went down there and I agreed to give them four or five hours of time looking at these documents. My wife made the comment that she’d never seen me like this. I read these documents. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t laugh with the children. I was stunned. In shock. Many of these documents still haven’t reached the public domain. I saw documents that characterized the Harvard Project as a public relation effort, not a research effort. I saw documents that characterized the Harvard Project as part of a legal strategy for the industry, not as a research project. It’s the card game. They were using different cards than we were playing by. We were doing our best to find answers and they had another agenda and at that point I knew what I had to do. I had to come forward and express what I knew and put these things in some perspective.
Q. Somebody sitting out there watching this program would say; “Now wait a second. This was last year that this happened? It’s 25 years since the Harvard Project started? You’ve seen all the publicity since then in the intervening 25 years. What was so different about this than say the Merrell Williams documents or Wigand or all the other revelations that have taken place?”
Huber: We didn’t trust them from day one at Harvard. We setup an independent oversight committee that had nothing to do with the Project. The were clear that they would use us and we knew that. We understood that. We went forward because we needed an answer, we needed a solution to a very difficult problem. We have a tobacco epidemic. There are over a billion people now smoking in the world. It’s projected that there will be ten million tobacco-caused deaths a year. That somebody will die every three seconds from a tobacco-related disease today. That’s more so than it was in 1972 and for these 25 years I’ve stuck with it, beyond now which longer than I wish I would have knowing what I know, trying to find a solution. What was different about Charleston was an appreciation of the utter magnitude of deceit. The organized magnitude of deception.
….Going back to 1972. Chief Executive Officer, Chief Scientist writing memoranda about the Harvard Project that I’d never heard of, never seen. Imagine! Fifteen faculty members, a team of forty or fifty technicians working every day, seven days a week, on a project trying to find an answer that they already had an answer to before we started and didn’t share with us.
We were used. We were used, we were misled, we were duped.
Q. You were part of their legal and public relations defense strategy.
Huber: That’s what the internal documents said. We were using funds to study children in the 1970’s. We were trying to find out how we could better intervene, at age ten, age fourteen, to prevent people from smoking. We had projects that were doing this. We now have documents from that very same period of time with market strategies from the Industry, how to find, how to addict 14 year-old children to nicotine. At the same time we were making our best efforts to do these things, looking at these problems, in part with their support, they were at the same time in what are now liberated documents, plotting strategies to do just the opposite.
Q. Steve Parrish. You go to his Sunday school class. You thought these were good people.
Huber: I always very much wanted to believe that somewhere within this industry there were good people who, ah, were responsible, who wanted answers, who were committed to doing the right thing.
Q. And then you discovered that they weren’t being straight with you.
Huber: Absolutely. Yes. Some of the very people, we trusted, that we thought were doing the right thing, as you now see the documents they were at the Committee of Counsel. That’s, where some of these things were being, ah, planned. Ah, ah, they were telling us one thing and really planning another.
Q. Now, was it just lawyers who came to visit the Harvard project of did the owners? Did the CEO’s come?
Huber: Ah, the CEO’s, their scientists, and their lawyers came. Ah, the CEO’s and scientists never without their lawyers. They all came.
Q. And did they see that you were progressing towards a link, for instance, between smoking and emphysema?
Huber: There was, there was no hidden or secret research. We shared everything with the external scientific community and with them. We showed them our research on animals developing emphysema. We showed them our research on nicotine, ntitration and addiction. We showed them our work on, ah, ah, coronary arteries disease and hardening of the arteries. We showed them everything we had.
Q. Were you, in a sense, willfully blind? Some people would say, were you, in a sense, willfully blind until you finally got approached by an attorney who might in fact make you testify?
Q. No, not at all. I think, ah, we had mistrusted these people from the beginning. I think it was being hit with a sledgehammer and realizing that, ah, no matter how hard we tried, ah, we were not going to be able to work with this industry under the leadership it’s had, to solve the problem that’s still there. You have to understand, the problem is bigger today than it’s ever been. Ah, we have more emphysema, we have more, ah, cardiovascular disease world wide, we have more lung cancer than we’ve ever had before, linked to tobacco.
Q. You were trying to take money from the people who are profiting from spreading this illness, to find a cure? Or to find the link?
Huber: No, no, no. No. We were using research fundin to try and find answers that would make a difference. And I think…thought, I felt…I still do, but I, there has to be some kind of new, new rules. Because every rule we’ve ever tried hasn’t worked. I felt they had a responsibility to find answers. And they needed to fund research to do this. So we accepted it.
Q. And what they were getting out of it was this delay?
Huber: I think the delay is extraordinary. I think, not just in my view but leaders at NIH have said the same thing. They bought ten or fifteen years of scientific–arrested ten or fifteen years of scientific progress,by funding research in such a way that, uh, disinformation was generated and that confusion and controversy were developed and perpetuated. Bought time.
Q. So that they could deny something that seemed obvious to everyone, that smoking caused cancer.
Huber: Well, I think worse than that. Not just deny. I think create disinformation. They could go on one hand to Congress and say “look, we’re funding research, we’re trying to get answers.” They could go to the public and say, you know, “we don’t know, we’re trying to find answers.” But they were really, I think , funding research in different ways, the outcome of which would create confusion and disinformation. Unequivocally.
Q. And again, we’re not talking just about their lawyers. Their executives knew what was going on.
Huber: I asked Ron Motley “how could this occur?” How could that many people for that long hide that much? I mean, there are boxes of documents that angry spouses have delivered, whatever. That had been sitting around for years. Um, how could they go home at night knowing that? How could they fund research programs like ours, knowing they already had answers that they didn’t share with us. How could they let the government, NIH, researchers around the country, go down these blind alleys? How could there be that many people who could do that? His answer was money. I find that hard to believe. I find that there must have been people in there, a few, uh, Jeff Wigand, Merrell Williams, whatever, there must have been a lot more that, that had a great deal of difficulty going home at night knowing this. I mean I’ve seen documents written in the nineteen fifties that would have made a huge difference to the outside research community if we’d had them. Documents in the sixties, seventies, eighties. How could there be that many people who kept all this under wraps for so long? I don’t know the answer. I don’t know the answer to that, but when I saw it, it was a magnitude of shock that, uh, I’d never experienced before.
Q. When you read these documents and you had this devastating reaction, is it part guilt?
Huber: Stupidity for being fooled. More, though, the cost in lives. My own father died of emphysema. And I think the magnitude of the cost in illness and suffering and death, uh, that could have been avoided with full disclosure and with honesty didn’t occur.
Q. The obvious question to people in the audience is you had a long career but it sounds like you think that a large part of it was wasted.
Huber: That was a closing question to me in, in my deposition. “Doctor, have they wasted your career?” No. I’ve published a hundred and fifty peer-reviewed journals. I’ve had a, a good, uh, professional and personal life. It would have been much different, uh, we would have achieved the goals we were trying to, uh, to reach in helping people if they had been honest. Uh, but whatever my answer is personally pales, pales in comparison to the loss of life of individuals who had diseases from smoking.
Q. You’re angry.
Huber: It’s beyond anger. It’s beyond anger. This is a level of irresponsibility that, uh, um, when I first saw it I could not comprehend. We have let them get away with this. I was used; I became a part of it. It has to stop.
Q. So if you had a warning to Congress, to the President, to the Vice President, what would it be?
Huber: Do not trust them. They cannot be trusted. You know, their new chief executives have come forward and said “trust us, we’re different.” Same lawyers are still there. Chief executives have come and gone; same lawyers are still there.