Reynolds' Lawyer Says Brooklyn Man Made `Adult Choice' to Smoke
Brooklyn, New York, May 3 (Bloomberg) -- R.J. Reynolds
Tobacco Holdings Inc. opened its defense in a lawsuit brought by
an ex-smoker who suffers from lung cancer and emphysema, saying
the Brooklyn man was fully aware of the risks of cigarettes during
``This case is about Clyde Anderson and the choices he
made,'' said Reynolds' attorney, Stephen Kaczynski, referring to
the 57-year old plaintiff. Reynolds is the main defendant in the
case because Anderson smoked Salem, a Reynolds' brand, for 30
years. Other defendants include Philip Morris Cos., British
American Tobacco Plc, Loews Corp. and Brooke Group Ltd.
Anderson was a 19-year-old, married father with a full-time
job when he first began smoking in 1961, Kaczynski said, calling
Anderson's decision to use cigarettes an ``adult choice.''
After warning labels first appeared on cigarette packages in
1966, Anderson continued to smoke for another 27 years, Kaczynski
said. The question for the jury is ``whether he should be excused
from those choices and be paid money for perhaps making the wrong
choice,'' Kaczynski said in his opening statement.
The case is the first individual lawsuit against cigarette
makers to go to trial since a San Francisco jury in March awarded
more than $20 million to a California cancer victim. It's also the
first tobacco case to go to trial in New York.
Anderson was diagnosed in April 1996 with emphysema and lung
cancer, and filed suit in October 1997. While he was growing up,
Anderson's parents discouraged smoking and his sister, a nurse,
also warned him against cigarettes, Kaczynski said.
Leonard Finz, Kaczynski's attorney, alleged in his opening
statement yesterday and this morning that tobacco companies
conspired to ``fraudulently conceal the dangers and hazards of
cigarettes'' in the years before government-mandated health
warnings on cigarette packs were toughened in 1969.
``Once he started to smoke in 1961, he was hooked, and being
hooked, he was addicted,'' his lawyer added.
Kaczynski said that when Anderson finally decided to quit
smoking in 1993, he did so without the help of nicotine patches,
nicotine gum, counseling or hypnosis.
Of the 13 jurors and alternates chosen for the case, 11 are
black, as is Anderson. Twelve of the 13 jurors and alternates are
women. Only six of the 13 will actually decide the case after
testimony is completed. The trial is expected to last six to eight
weeks, Finz said.
Analysts have downplayed the San Francisco verdict, along
with two other West Coast losses by the industry last year, as the
products of state laws and juries that tend to favor plaintiffs.
In the aftermath of the California verdict, the Anderson case will
be closely watched, analysts said.
The California verdict was significant because the plaintiff
in that case, Leslie Whiteley, didn't start smoking until after
1969. Tobacco companies had previously believed that warning
labels provided them with legal protection against allegations
that they misled smokers about the risks of cigarettes.
Another closely watched case is the so-called Engle trial in
Miami. A six-member jury has already found the tobacco industry
responsible for the smoking-related illnesses of as many as
500,000 Florida smokers and has awarded three individuals $12.7
million in compensatory damages.
Later this month, lawyers for the smokers will try to
persuade the jurors to award punitive damages against the tobacco
companies in that case, which is the first class-action suit over
smoking-related deaths and illnesses to go to trial. Damages in
the case could cost the industry hundreds of billions of dollars,
analysts have said.
Meanwhile, cigarette makers -- who so far have succeeded in
fending off lawsuits by union health plans and foreign governments
seeking to recover money spent treating sick smokers -- still face
a U.S. Justice Department suit. The government seeks billions of
dollars it says it spent through Medicare and other federal health
programs to treat smoking-related illnesses.