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RETIREE RETRACTS CHARGES AGAINST PHILIP MORRIS

A former manufacturing supervisor at Philip Morris USA has retracted his widely publicized accusations that the company routinely measured the nicotine content of its cigarettes during production at its Richmond, Va., factory, according to testimony made public Monday.

Jerome Rivers, who retired from the company after 23 years, also conceded under cross-examination by the company during a deposition last week in Mississippi that he knew of no case in which the company had pulled materials out of production at the factory because of low nicotine levels.The deposition was taken last Tuesday and Wednesday in connection with Mississippi's lawsuit against Philip Morris and other tobacco companies and distributors. The state is seeking compensation for Medicare spending on smoking-related illnesses.

Rivers became a foot soldier in the tobacco wars in March when the Food and Drug Administration released his sworn statement maintaining that the company both measured and controlled nicotine levels in the production process he oversaw.

Those statements directly contradicted testimony to Congress in 1994 by William Campbell, the company's former president. In addition to appearing to strengthen the accusations by anti-tobacco groups that Campbell had committed perjury, Rivers' testimony was described by the FDA as evidence it might rely on in support of its proposal to impose sweeping new regulations on the industry.

Lawyers for Mississippi said that despite the retraction, Rivers' deposition provided valuable evidence for its case, particularly on the use of ammonia to deliver more nicotine to smokers.

"Whether they measure for nicotine in the factory or in storage or at any other stage of the process doesn't matter," said Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore.

During the deposition, Philip Morris lawyers suggested that Rivers had mistakenly made the accusations because of his work from 1988 to 1991 at another factory where the company was working on Next, a 97 percent nicotine-free cigarette that smokers rejected during test marketing.