Cigarettes caused illnesses, Newport maker's CEO says
MIAMI, June 28 (Reuters) - The head of a tobacco company founded before the American Revolution told a Miami courtroom on Wednesday that cigarettes caused the lung cancer, emphysema and other illnesses of some Florida smokers suing Big Tobacco.
Martin Orlowsky, chief executive of Lorillard Inc., the maker of Newport cigarettes owned by New York conglomerate Loews Corp., also testified that the No. 4 U.S. cigarette company now accepted that smoking was addictive.
Orlowskwy, 58 and head of Lorillard since January 1999, was the last top tobacco executive to testify at the Engle class action suit now winding up as jurors weigh punitive damages on behalf of 500,000 or more sick smokers in Florida.
Forecasts of the damages, likely to be fixed sometime in July, go as high as hundreds of billions of dollars.
Tobacco lawyers have said they will appeal both any damages judgment and the verdicts last year that found Lorillard, Philip Morris (NYSE:MO - news) and leading tobacco companies liable for conspiracy, fraud and selling dangerous products.
Defence attorneys were expected on Thursday to end weeks of testimony meant to convince the same six jurors sitting on the case since 1998 that the industry had been sobered by massive legal settlements with state governments and now operated with a new openness on tobacco's health risks.
``Does Lorillard acknowledge that there are members of the Engle class who contracted lung cancer or other diseases as a result of smoking?'' Orlowsky was asked by company lawyer David Ross.
``Yes, we do,'' the executive said in a courtroom containing plaintiffs with cancers of the lung and throat, heart disease and other ailments.
Orlowsky also testified that Lorillard would own up to smoking's causative role during at least some of the trials arising from roughly 600 liability lawsuits pending against the 240-year-old company, based in Greensboro, North Carolina.
America's oldest tobacco company and part of the Loews group controlled by New York's Tisch family, Lorillard expected to pay out $25 billion to $30 billion through 2021 under legal settlements struck in 1997 and 1998, he said.
Tobacco lawyers have argued that those deals, settling lawsuits brought by state governments demanding compensation for treating generations of sick smokers, were punishment enough for the industry and should offset any punitive damages the Miami jury may set.
Like his peers, Orlowsky testified the U.S. tobacco business was shrinking and the company's brands, plants, warehouses and other properties would sell for much less than official values, if massive punitive damages in the Engle case forced corporate liquidations.
Orlowsky said Lorillard, which holds just under 10 percent of the U.S. cigarette market with its Kent, True, Old Gold and other brands, had a net worth at year-end 1999 of $921.2 million.