Jurors Hear Cancer-Tobacco Case
MIAMI (AP) - A housewife told lawyers eight months before she died of lung cancer that she started sneaking cigarettes in the seventh grade because she thought smoking was ``cool'' and grown-up.
In a deposition read to jurors Wednesday in a landmark tobacco trial, Angie Della Vecchia described how she smoked from age 11 until just before her lung surgery in 1997 - and again afterward. She quit for good after a seizure revealed cancer had spread to her brain in 1998, and she died last year at age 53.
A videotape deposition she made seven months before she died was shown Wednesday afternoon in the damage phase of a trial that the tobacco industry worries could produce a $300 billion verdict.
The same jury considering whether to award damages to an estimated 500,000 sick Florida smokers decided last July that the nation's five biggest cigarette makers fraudulently conspired to produce a dangerous and defective product.
Wearing a blond wig, a plain silver cross and a black dress with red collar, the church volunteer and avid bowler looked tired and her face was puffy as she spoke about smoking for more than 40 years.
``I thought it was cool, I guess. ... It looked like it was enticing,'' she said in the November 1998 videotape, recalling as a child how she watched other people smoke. ``I was just in awe of it.''
Commercials full of ``pretty women and handsome men'' but no children created the impression that smoking was a grown-up thing to do.
Della Vecchia's radiation therapy left her ``tired and vomiting, but I'm hoping when the treatment is way behind me, that I might get everything back.''
On cross-examination, industry attorneys focused on her attempts to quit smoking and dismissed them as ``several minor attempts'' that were ``a joke,'' a phrase borrowed from another deposition she gave a month earlier.
Della Vecchia called that a figure of speech, said she tried but could never go more than a few hours without a cigarette when she was smoking two packs a day.
The defense rested after the videotape was played. The industry was expected to begin its case Monday.
The six-member jury must award compensatory damages in Della Vecchia's case or to one of two other smokers with cancer before getting to the question of punitive damages.