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Prominent Vanderbilt dean testifies for cigarette makers

September 10, 2019 GMT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A prominent Vanderbilt University dean who co-directs the school’s public policy poll has used his credentials as a polling expert to help cigarette makers win lawsuits against sickened smokers, WPLN-FM reports .

John Geer, dean of the College of Arts and Science, testified in 2014 that he was being paid $300 an hour as an expert witness.

Geer did not respond to multiple requests for comment in recent weeks from the radio station. He did not immediately return email or phone messages from The Associated Press on Tuesday.

According to the station, Geer testified that a 1954 Gallup poll shows smokers were aware of the dangers.


The tobacco industry’s ongoing legal strategy, dubbed the “common knowledge” defense, aims to prove that people have known since the ’50s that smoking was bad for them and did it anyway.

Gallup officials have previously warned that their poll is being taken out of context, pointing to other surveys during the same period that found when people said smoking was “harmful,” they were thinking of risks like coughing, not cancer.

In the 2014 case, a widow in Florida argued that her husband’s bladder cancer was caused by his smoking as many as three packs a day beginning in his youth. The case was ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount. It was one of thousands in Florida stemming from a class-action verdict that was overturned but allowed many smokers to make individual claims.

Geer’s work for the tobacco industry is not listed in his 17-page curriculum vitae. Testifying in 2014, Geer refused to name any individual at Vanderbilt who knew about his consulting work, which he said has accounted for 25% of his income in some years. He said he started the work in 2004, and court documents show he was active through at least mid-2018.

Geer is a professor of public policy and education and the co-director of the Vanderbilt Poll. Last week Vanderbilt announced that former Gov. Bill Haslam will teach a course titled “Leadership” with Geer and author and historian John Meacham.


Information from: WPLN-FM, http://www.wpln.org/