|Page 2 June 1998||
Cheryl Perry, U epidemiology professor, in front of stack of documents she reviewed for her Minnesota vs. Big Tobacco testimony. In her hands: the 1994 U.S. Surgeon General’s report “Preventing Tobacco Use among Young People” of which she was senior scientific editor. (Photo by Richard Anderson)
Been wondering who got stuck reading the millions of tobacco company documents we kept hearing about during the Minnesota vs. Big Tobacco trial? Well, it was the AHC’s own Cheryl Perry, professor of public health, division of epidemiology, and key expert witness on tobacco company efforts to get kids to start smoking. Okay, so she didn’t read them all, just a stack of them a couple feet taller than she is. (She’s five feet tall and weighs under 100 pounds.) Having served as scientific editor of the 1994 U.S. Surgeon General’s report “Preventing Tobacco Use among Young People,” Perry caught the eye of the state attorneys as they were contemplating a lawsuit to recover costs of treating people with smoking-related illnesses. In late 1995 the attorney general’s office asked her to be a witness.
“In the fall of 1996, I began to get tobacco industry documents,” says Perry who proved a formidable opponent of the tobacco interests during her three days of testimony in March. “They were hand-delivered and had to be placed in a locked file cabinet. By strict confidentiality agreement, I could not talk about them to anyone.”
Month after month, she pored through the documents, often stumbling across startling evidence of the companies’ determination to sell cigarettes to younger and younger youths. “Replacement smokers,” they called them. Perry kept a file of incriminating quotations.
“However intriguing smoking was at 11, 12, and 13, by age 16 or 17, many regretted their use of cigarettes for health reasons and because they feel unable to stop smoking when they want to,” read one 1977 document titled, “Project 16, Report of Imperial Tobacco Limited.”
“It was shocking,” Perry says. “I had no idea those companies had paid so much attention to very young people. I just couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t have shredded them long ago.”
From mountains of documents, Perry culled hundreds of pages of incriminating excerpts and supporting research which she essentially committed to memory because she would not be allowed to take notes to the witness stand. She also wrote a 20-page expert witness report that tobacco industry lawyers worked hard to tear apart both at a six-hour, pre-trial deposition and in court.
They failed. By all accounts, Perry and her work held up beautifully during the deposition in which tobacco lawyers not only grilled her about her report but about her personal life. They were looking for anything they could use to discredit her future testimony.
Those who know her would tell you you won’t find much dirt in Perry’s life, except maybe on the bottom of her hiking boots. An international authority on the prevention of alcohol and tobacco abuse as well as heart disease with children and adolescents, she doesn’t smoke and doesn’t. She claims she tried a cigarette once in her life, when she was 29, for “research purposes.” (She couldn’t finish it.) In short, she was the tobacco companies’ worst nightmare.
During even the most frantic and demanding parts of the trial, when some lawyers and witnesses subsisted mostly on coffee and candy bars and a couple hours sleep, she meditated daily, swam or used the treadmill regularly, ate "healthfully" (she’s a vegetarian), and drank tea rather than coffee.
She needed the strength that regimen gave her when she underwent withering cross examination by tobacco lawyers. Luckily she’d been drilled by state lawyers for weeks before that. Toughened up, as it were.
“I actually had to become a little bit mean,” says Perry who is the personification of Minnesota nice even though she’s from not-quite-so-nice California. But she feels the hard work and temporary changes in temperament were worth it, especially considering that the case was ultimately settled out of court for between $5 billion and $6 million, some of which will go toward anti-smoking efforts.
“In the field of public health, if we are going to continue to take on public issues like smoking and alcohol abuse, we are all going to have to learn these skills.”
While members of the public may not remember her by name many Americans
will remember the revelations she made during her testimony about tobacco
company efforts to make smokers of teenage and preteen youths.
She couldn’t have done it, she says, without the support of her public health colleagues, some of whom sat nervously biting their nails and shielding their eyes during her testimony for fear she would buckle under the pressure. She never did.
Expertise, personal and collegial support, exercise, and nutritious
meals (prepared by her husband) helped get her through this test of wills,
but Perry had a secret weapon that gave he the edge from the start. "I
really believed I was telling the truth," she says.
Below are some quotations which Cheryl Perry culled from tobacco company documents. She committed them to memory for her three days of testimony.
Forum on tobacco settlement
To help define the University’s strategy for participating in the statewide discussion about how to best allocate the tobacco settlement revenues, the AHC will hold a forum on this topic on Tuesday, June 9, 1998, at 4:00 p.m. in the Basic Sciences and Biomedical Engineering seminar room on the second floor.
“Our best chance to secure a portion of the funding--for prevention, the treatment of smoking related diseases, cancer research, and health professional education--is to coordinate our efforts and to work with the SmokeFree 2000 coalition and others to assure that the people of Minnesota are well served,” said Frank Cerra, V.P. for Health Sciences. All members of the AHC community are urged to attend. If you have questions, please call Chris Roberts, AHC Office of Communications at 626-2767.
AHC Recipe of the Month (Contributed
by Regina White)
5 cups peanut oil
(or other light oil)
2 lg yellow or sweet onions peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Heat oil to 350 degrees on a food thermometer in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Combine remaining ingredients in a medium bowl and carefully toss to coat onions. Remove onion slices from flour mixture, shaking to remove excess. Fry a few slices at a time for about 10 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Repeat until all onions are fried. Drain on paper towel. Yield: 4 servings.
If you have a recipe you’d like
to share, e-mail it to: hayes035.tc.umn.edu or send it to AHC Community
News, Box 735, 420 Delaware St. SE, Mpls., MN 55455