Tobacco Cos. Fight W.Va. Lawsuit
WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) - Tobacco companies are hoping to cast doubt on a central argument of a class-action suit filed against them - that diagnostic medical tests are needed to help protect healthy smokers from disease.
Cigarette companies were expected to begin their arguments Thursday in a lawsuit that accuses them of making a defective product and ignoring the health of West Virginia smokers.
The suit seeks free diagnostic tests for 250,000 smokers in the state. The class members in the suit are people who have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for at least five years, but who are not sick.
Duke University radiologist Dr. Phillip Goodman was set to testify Thursday. He was expected to back up the tobacco companies' claim that the medical screening program would have little benefit and could create harm by triggering invasive, unnecessary follow-up tests.
The lawsuit is the first class-action medical monitoring case against the major tobacco companies to be tried in the United States. The suit, essentially a liability claim, was filed against R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard.
The suit seeks to force the companies to pay for a lung-function test called spirometry for all symptom-free smokers at age 40, with a second test at age 45 and tests every two years after that.
Starting at age 50, healthy smokers also would get spiral computed tomography scans, which generate three-dimensional images of organs and potentially reveal disease earlier than other tests.
The smokers believe those tests could lead to lifesaving early detection of lung cancer, emphysema and chronic obstructive lung diseases.
Medical experts testifying for the tobacco companies were expected to argue that the spiral computed tomography scans can only detect growths, and that those growths can only be diagnosed using other procedures not included in the medical monitoring program.
Goodman was also likely to talk about how follow-up tests, which can range from additional scans to a needle biopsy, can expose healthy people to an unreasonable risk of injury or death.
``The basic message he's going to give is that we know there is going to be risk in the plaintiffs' program,'' R.J. Reynolds attorney Jeff Furr said. Goodman believes any potential benefits of screening are unproven, he said.
Tobacco companies claim that cigarettes are risky but not defective and that the risks have long been common knowledge to smokers.
The companies plan to call current and former industry researchers to testify about efforts to design a safer cigarette.
Smokers' attorney Scott Segal argues that tobacco companies acted with ``willful and wanton'' disregard for public health when evidence emerged that cigarettes can cause disease.