Philip J. Hilts, 74, Dies; Reporter Uncovered a Massive-Tobacco Cowl-up

Philip J. Hilts, who as a science reporter for The New York Occasions in 1994 uncovered a tobacco firm’s decades-long cover-up of its personal analysis exhibiting that tobacco was dangerous and nicotine was addictive, died on April 23 in Lebanon, N.H. He was 74.

The trigger was problems of liver illness, his son Ben mentioned.

Mr. Hilts was a longtime journalist, writing for The Occasions, The Washington Publish and different publications, and was the creator of six nonfiction books on scientific, medical and social subjects.

His work on tobacco made headlines not solely in The Occasions but additionally throughout the nation. In 1994, he obtained internal documents exhibiting that executives of the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company have been scuffling with whether or not to speak in confidence to the surgeon basic what they knew in 1963 concerning the hazards of smoking; their very own analysis confirmed that cigarettes have been addictive and prompted lung most cancers or predisposed folks to it.

The Brown & Williamson executives, Mr. Hilts wrote, “selected to stay silent, to maintain their analysis outcomes secret, to cease work on a safer cigarette and to pursue a authorized and public relations technique of admitting nothing.”

Mr. Hilts’s article, on the entrance web page of The Occasions, appeared a month after prime executives of the seven greatest American tobacco corporations testified before Congress that nicotine was not addictive. Two years later, they have been all underneath federal investigation for probably mendacity underneath oath and have been no longer main their corporations.

The Justice Division finally dropped its criminal investigation into whether or not the executives had perjured themselves. However in 1998, 4 tobacco corporations and 46 states reached what was the largest civil litigation settlement in American history, with the businesses agreeing to pay the states $206 billion over 25 years. Tens of millions of inner firm paperwork of the type that Mr. Hilts and different information organizations had relied on have been made public within the course of.

Mr. Hilts additionally broke main tales about breast implants, contraceptives and deceit within the beauty machine business. He was among the many first reporters to cowl the AIDS epidemic.

An adventurous kind — he was a scuba diver and world traveler — he wrote a dispatch from an lively volcano a mile beneath the Pacific Ocean. He lined the confessions of a healer in Zambia who claimed to be “curing” AIDS. And he examined a law-enforcement apply of utilizing hypnosis to “refresh” the recollections of witnesses; his findings of problems with hypnosis led to the discharge of 4 males from jail.

Most lately, he served as director of the Knight Science Journalism Program on the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise, from 2008 to 2014.

His books embody “Smokescreen: The Fact Behind the Tobacco Business Cowl-Up” (1996), which examined the business’s 40-year disinformation marketing campaign on cigarette smoking; “Defending America’s Well being: The FDA, Enterprise and One Hundred Years of Regulation” (2003), a historical past of the Meals and Drug Administration; and “Rx for Survival: Why We Should Rise to the World Well being Problem” (2005), by which he described how rich nations will help struggle the specter of new and resurgent outbreaks of illness world wide.

Philip James Hilts was born on Could 10, 1947, in Chicago. His father, Edward, was a nonfiction author who additionally wrote historic fiction for youngsters. His mom, Katherine (Bonn) Hilts, labored at a Sears retailer in a number of departments, together with as a switchboard operator.

Philip was one in every of seven kids and grew up primarily in Hinsdale, Unwell., a suburb west of Chicago.

After highschool, he served briefly within the service provider marine earlier than attending Georgetown College in Washington, from 1965 to 1967. He then dropped out and hitchhiked to San Francisco to take part within the “Summer of Love,” when the hippie and counterculture actions have been in full bloom.

He returned to Georgetown in 1969 however by no means graduated, deciding as a substitute to take up journalism. He undertook quick stints as a reporter and photographer at small suburban newspapers and at The Washington Every day Information in Washington, D.C., and The Rocky Mountain Information in Denver earlier than turning into a contract journal author.

He joined The Washington Publish as a employees author within the Eighties, taking trip for a Nieman fellowship at Harvard from 1984-85. He moved over to The Occasions’s Washington bureau in 1989 as a employees author till 1996, when he turned a contract author till 2002.

Mr. Hilts obtained a number of journalism fellowships, together with one which despatched him to Botswana, the place he taught journalism. Most of his fellowships have been dedicated to science writing.

He married Mary Donna McKeown, a fellow reporter at The Washington Every day Information, in 1974; she died in 1987. In 1993, he married Carisa Cunningham, who on the time labored for nonprofit AIDS organizations; they divorced in 2011. He married Una MacDowell, who was a researcher in math and science training, in 2013. They lived in Cambridge, Mass., and Rochester, Vt. He died in a hospital.

Along with his spouse and his son Ben, he’s survived by one other son, Sean; two daughters, Alexis and Kate Hilts; a grandson; 4 brothers, Edward, Paul, Michael and Mark; two sisters, Jeanne Younger and Elizabeth Hilts; and two kids from his spouse’s first marriage, William and Nora MacDowell Coon.

At his demise, Mr. Hilts was ending a e book about Lynn Margulis, a biologist whose analysis into the origin of cells helped rework the research of evolution, and who was married for a time to the astronomer Carl Sagan.


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