Tobacco Firms Tricked Smokers for Decades - Lawyer
MIAMI (Reuters) - Big Tobacco deceived Americans for half a century, a lawyer for sick smokers said on Monday in final arguments to Miami jurors who may soon hand U.S. cigarette makers the largest punitive damages judgement ever.
Wrapping up a two-year trial on behalf of 500,000 sick smokers, plaintiffs lawyer Stanley Rosenblatt had yet to put a price tag on the punishment he claims Philip Morris, maker of Marlboros, and other blue-chip tobacco companies deserve.
Forecasts of a punitive damages judgement by the jurors, four women and two men who have already found Big Tobacco liable of conspiracy and the lung cancer, emphysema and other diseases of Florida smokers, range from hundreds of millions to hundreds of billions of dollars.
The highest U.S. punitive damages judgement came last year. A California jury ordered carmaker General Motors to pay $4.8 billion to four children and two adults burned by the exploding gasoline tank of a Chevy Malibu. A judge later cut that award to $1.09 billion.
``The day of reckoning has arrived. The day of reckoning has arrived, and you're going to have to pay the price. You're going to have to pay the price for your misconduct,'' Rosenblatt said in court, his voice quavering.
Rosenblatt attacked tobacco company claims that they had overhauled their much-criticized advertising and marketing techniques and were already struggling to pay $246 billion due through 2021 under lawsuit settlements reached with state governments during the 1990s.
He fiercely disputed claims by chief executives of Philip Morris, Camels-maker R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc and the Lorillard unit of Loews Corp that their companies were wasting businesses with brand names, plants and other assets few wanted to buy.
``These companies take in more money than most countries in the United Nations,'' Rosenblatt said.
Rosenblatt said the reforms and apologies for past shortcomings made to the jurors by some of the tobacco company CEOs in recent weeks were too little and too late. Several said their companies now accepted smoking was addictive and a health risk.
The lawyer said industry trickery began in 1954 with full-page newspaper ads known as ``The Frank Statement'' proclaiming the industry was investigating claims of possible links between disease and smoking.
``I tell you that from 'The Frank Statement of 1954' to Philip Morris' mission statement in the year 2000, this industry has left a half century trail of deceit which has decimated millions of Americans,'' Rosenblatt said.
Like Rosenblatt, defense lawyers have as much as two days to address the jury and were expected to begin on Tuesday. Rosenblatt will also have rebuttal time before the trial judge charges the jurors on Florida law and deliberations begin.