Tobacco CEO Testifies in Fla. Case
MIAMI (AP) -- The head of the nation's No. 3 tobacco company admitted in court that smoking is addictive and causes lung cancer, and said the industry should have been more open about the hazards.
Nicholas Brookes, chairman and CEO of Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company, addresses his answers to the jury during the penalty phase of the Florida Smokers trial.``There is nothing that would have prevented us to communicate that earlier,'' Nicholas Brookes, chairman and CEO of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., testified Thursday. ``I regret not having done that.''
The tobacco industry is trying to convince a jury that it has changed its ways and deserves no further punishment.
The jury had already determined that cigarette makers conspired to produce a deadly product, and earlier this year it awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages to three people in the nation's first class-action lawsuit by smokers to go to trial.
The lawsuit represents 300,000 to 500,000 sick Florida smokers. Jurors are now being asked to award punitive damages that some estimate could reach billions of dollars.
During his testimony, Brookes offered ``sincere apologies'' if his company had done anything that had harmed smokers in the suit. Their attorney, Stanley Rosenblatt, called the regrets and apologies hypocritical.
Rosenblatt asked Brookes why he then continues to sell Kool, Lucky Strike and 18 other domestic cigarette brands, knowing that his product is killing its consumers.
``We believe that the risks are known to smokers and if they choose to continue to smoke ... they should be free to do so,'' responded Brookes, who became the company's CEO in 1995.
Witnesses for the plaintiffs have estimated that the five tobacco companies named in the lawsuit could raise as much as $157 billion to pay a punitive damages verdict, though the judge earlier said that any award should be based on what the industry could pay immediately.
Brookes pleaded with the jury not to further punish the industry, saying a punitive damages award could bankrupt his company just as it completes research that could lead to a less carcinogenic cigarette.
Earlier this week, Philip Morris Inc. CEO Michael Szymanczyk testified that smoking is unhealthy and addictive, but said smokers can break the habit if they choose. He argued that tobacco companies have been punished enough, citing a 1998 agreement in which cigarette makers agreed to pay $254 billion over 25 years to settle state lawsuits.
The CEOs of the other three tobacco companies are also expected to testify: Andrew Schindler of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Martin Orlowsky of Lorillard Tobacco Co., and Bennett LeBow of Liggett Group Inc., who in 1997 became the first industry executive to publicly admit smoking causes cancer.