Milton E. Harrington, a former chief executive of Liggett Group Inc.'s tobacco division, was incorrectly described as deceased Wednesday by a plaintiff's lawyer in a smoker-liability trial in Newark. (Published 2/19/88)

NEWARK, FEB. 17 -- A former head of Liggett Group Inc.'s tobacco division said in a deposition introduced here today in a smoker-death lawsuit that "smoking was not harmful ... in any way."

The plaintiff's lawyer, Marc Z. Edell, asked Milton E. Harrington, president and chief executive of Liggett & Myers from mid-1964 to January 1973, what facts he had considered in reaching his opinion.

"It didn't ever harm me," Harrington had said in the deposition, which was taken before his death in 1985. "My opinion was and is today that smoking is not harmful."

Edell pressed on, "What facts do you base that belief on?"

"Just my belief," Harrington said.

"No particular fact?"

"No, just my belief," Harrington said.

In place of Harrington, an actor took the stand in U.S. District Court to read Harrington's responses to Edell's questions.

Harrington joined Liggett in 1934 and rose through the ranks, becoming executive vice president and a director of the parent company and of The Tobacco Institute.

"Was there a corporate position with respect to cigarette smoking and health?" Edell asked in the deposition.

"If there was a position, it was that we didn't believe that smoking was harmful," Harrington replied, defining "we" as "all of us in the company."

He specifically included the research department, whose chief, he said, made monthly reports to the board.

Earlier in the trial, the jury heard contrary testimony from chemist James D. Mold, a former assistant research director of Liggett & Myers.

Mold said he realized in the late 1950s or early 1960s that cigarette smoke contained cancer-causing and cancer-promoting substances. "...It seemed rather definitive to me that cigarette smoke was contributory to the incidence of lung cancer in human beings," he testified.

Harrington, asked by Edell whether the board had established the corporate position that smoking wasn't harmful, replied, "We didn't even discuss a position about smoking and health as far as the corporation was concerned, so far as I can remember."

He also said in the deposition that "I don't know of any policy we had" about smoking and health in 1964, when the first surgeon general's report on smoking was issued, or in 1965.

Edell represents Antonio Cipollone, who is suing Liggett, Philip Morris Inc. and Lorillard Inc. as a result of the lung-cancer death of his wife, a longtime smoker.

The jury also heard differing testimony on a Liggett-sponsored study that confirmed cancers develop on the shaved skins of mice to which condensed smoke tars had been applied.

Harrington testified that "we did not believe ... that research experiments on animals can be extrapolated to man."

Mold had testified that the tests identified the carcinogens that caused the cancer in mice, and said, "We could only assume from that that this must be sufficient to produce the effect in humans."

On a related issue, Harrington had testified that "the first time I paid attention" to reports associating smoking with lung cancer was when the 1964 surgeon general's report was issued.

"Had you received any information concerning cigarette smoking and health prior to that time?" Edell asked. "No," Harrington replied.

Harrington said he read the report, but "didn't believe it" and did "nothing" about it -- including, so far as he could recall, discussing it with any other Liggett executive.