Emphysema simulation demo used in US trial

8 December 2009

A simulation exercise of what it feels like to breathe when you have emphysema - devised by a University of Sydney medical specialist - has been used in a US court trial in which Philip Morris has been ordered to pay a former smoker $US300 million.

The exercise, taught by Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine Matthew Peters, was first used as part of a radio advertisement in Australia, which then proved so popular it was made into a TV advertisement.

The exercise is such a simple demonstration of what it feels like to have emphysema that it has been estimated that more than 75 per cent of people who have heard the advertisement have participated in the simulation.

A/Professor Peters said the genesis of using the exercise as a communication and demonstration tool came when he was asked by advertising executives from The Campaign Palace what having emphysema felt like.

"The best I could do to explain it was to ask them to take as deep a breath as they could, then take another breath on top of that. Then I got them to try to keep on breathing in and out while not letting those deep breaths out. They were convinced," he said.

A/Professor Peters said as many as one third of smoking-related deaths are directly or indirectly caused by emphysema, which is a long-term progressive disease of the lungs.

"It is a painful way to die," he said. "While many smokers claim to not be concerned about cutting their lives short they fail to consider the quality of their end stages of life if they continue smoking."

"Dying earlier is one thing - having an uncomfortable disease for a long period of time while you are still alive is another."

In the recent US court trial Philip Morris was ordered to pay a former smoker $300 million because the jury believed the company's negligence was the cause of the woman's emphysema.

The award for Cindy Naugle, 61, is reported to be one of the largest awards to a former smoker to date. She smoked from 1968 to 1993 and now requires 24 hour oxygen and wheelchair transport.

The attorney representing Ms Naugle used A/Professor Peters' simulation exercise with the jury after being sent the Australian radio advertisement crafted from it.

A/Professor Peters said he hoped the publicity about emphysema would spread and that tobacco companies would be forced to pay for their responsibilities.

"Just as James Hardie knew its products were dangerous, tobacco companies know it too," he said. "It is a reasonable debating point that similar sanctions should be applied to tobacco companies as have been applied to James Hardie."

To interview A/Professor Peters, contact Kath Kenny, University of Sydney Media Office, 0434 606 100.