Philip Morris Claims New Attitude
MIAMI (AP) - A Philip Morris Inc. executive testified Friday that a new sense of responsibility has developed at the cigarette maker, which is trying to avoid paying punitive damages to 300,000 to 700,000 sick Florida smokers.
``We make a product that is dangerous and has health concerns associated with it,'' said Ellen Merlo, senior vice president of corporate affairs. ``I believe if we act responsibly, everything else will fall into place.''
Merlo outlined the cigarette maker's mission statement, youth anti-smoking programs and advertising to illustrate changes adopted since 1998 to make Philip Morris a more responsible company.
A $70 million television anti-smoking campaign targeting children age 10 to 14 is considered a success because it reached 90 percent of that group, she said.
Tobacco companies have highlighted efforts to keep young people from smoking, but smokers' witnesses have said the money is dwarfed by the industry's $6 billion annual advertising and promotion budget.
The nation's five biggest cigarette companies want to pay noting to smokers, arguing that a $254 billion commitment to state lawsuit settlements is enough. The industry expects to rest its case next week.
The jury already has decided the industry makes a deadly, defective product and awarded $12.7 million to three smokers with cancer. Smokers' witnesses have testified the industry can raise $150 billion to $157 billion to pay a punitive award.
On Thursday, witness Bennett LeBow, the owner of Liggett Group Inc. who broke with the rest of the industry, testified and got some of his toughest questioning from attorneys for other tobacco companies.
Although LeBow considers cigarettes deadly, he said he wants to stay in the business to fight the competition from the inside.
``I honestly believe it's very important that we stay in business, that we be the maverick of the industry, that we beat the industry up and make them do the right thing,'' LeBow said Thursday.
However, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. attorney Ben Reid suggested LeBow is driven by the bottom line and personal enrichment, citing his ownership of yachts and planes.
LeBow acknowledged that Liggett sells 1.2 billion cigarettes a year in the United States and plans to expand capacity at the company's Russian factory from 20 billion to 30 billion cigarettes a year.
Besides Liggett and Philip Morris, the other defendants are Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co. and the industry's defunct Council for Tobacco Research and Tobacco Institute.