NEWARK, FEB. 10 -- A defense lawyer in a smoker-death case tried to persuade a jury today that Liggett Group had made information about its health-related tobacco research freely available to the public, scientists and federal health officials.

The effort drew no concessions from a physician and economist who is the first witness for widower Antonio Cipollone, the plaintiff, and also led to a clash over the defense lawyer's credibility on the issue.

A key element in the dispute is a pivotal 1953 experiment in which Dr. Ernest Wynder produced cancer on the shaven backs of mice by applying the condensed tars of smoke from cigarette brand "X."

The study was widely publicized and led several tobacco companies to form the Tobacco Industry Research Committee to pay for studies.

But Liggett's tobacco division proceeded independently, hiring Arthur D. Little Inc., a research and consulting firm, to try to replicate Wynder's work with four brands of cigarettes: Liggett's Chesterfield and L&M, and two that haven't been identified. Little succeeded, starting in 1955.

In direct examination last week -- the start of a trial expected to last for months -- the plaintiff's expert witness, Jeffrey E. Harris, testified that Liggett and Little did not disclose the confirmation openly and promptly. Harris, a physician and economist, teaches at the Harvard University medical school and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Instead, Harris told the jury, the two firms made slow and vague disclosures, such as a report by Little scientist Charles J. Kensler that spoke of brands "A," "B," "C," and "D," and that didn't say Liggett had sponsored the research.

In cross-examination, Liggett lawyer James V. Kearney tried to show that Harris was wrong. One of his items of evidence involved a visit to Liggett & Myers' research lab by Reader's Digest Senior Editor James Monahan in 1959.

Late yesterday, Kearney asked Harris if he was aware that company scientists had advised Monahan "what results Liggett had obtained in their efforts to repeat the Wynder ... experiment?"

A moment later, Kearney tried to show that Liggett's openness hadn't paid off in the media. He told the witness:

"The fact of the matter is that the repeat of the Wynder {experiment} didn't get into the subsequent Reader's Digest article, so I guess you are wrong when you say, had Liggett come out and said they were repeating Wynder, ... it would have gotten into Life magazine and all the magazines."

At the end of the day, the plaintiff's lawyer, Marc Z. Edell, asked Kearney "to identify for the record the document in which he says Mr. Monahan was informed as to the replication of the Wynder study."

Kearney named a memo on the Monahan visit that a company scientist prepared, which Liggett had produced for Edell in pretrial discovery, and that has now been put in evidence.

The memo doesn't mention the replication. Rather, it says that research director F.R. Darkis "stated that in principle we had no disagreement with Dr. Ernest L. Wynder's original findings."

Overnight, Harris read the memo, and was questioned about its contents by Edell today. After reminding the jury that Kearney had identified the memo as the basis for saying that Liggett had told Monahan about the replication, Edell asked him if it contained "any statement" about the replication.

"No," Harris testified. "Absolutely not." Nor does it make any mention of cancers in mice, he said.

Liggett has emerged as the principal defendant because the late Rose D. Cipollone smoked Chesterfields and L&Ms from 1941, when she was 16, until 1968 -- two years after the first surgeon general's warnings went on cigarette packages.

The other defendants are Philip Morris Inc., whose brands she smoked starting in 1968, and P. Lorillard Inc., whose brands she switched to in 1974. She was found to have lung cancer in 1981 and died in 1984.