Smoky future

A US jury holds tobacco companies liable for manufacturing a product that causes lung cancer and other diseases

Published: Sunday 15 August 1999

"the Marlboro man just fell off his high horse into quicksand and it will be years until the tobacco industry even gets him halfway out,'' said Ahron Leichtman, executive director of Citizens for a Tobacco-Free Society, a non-governmental organisation.

He was commenting on a jury decision taken in Florida on July 7. The jury held tobacco companies liable for manufacturing a defective product that causes emphysema, lung cancer and other illnesses. The decision came after a seven-day deliberation. The jury will return in the next phase to determine damages, which may run into almost us $200 billion. This case was filed in 1994 on behalf of as many as 500,000 sick smokers of Florida and the families of those who died.

Plaintiffs and family members wept and hugged each other as the verdict was read. Philip Morris Inc., the world's largest cigarette maker, declined to comment.

The industry claimed there is no scientific proof that smoking causes any illness and that the public is well aware that smoking is risky.

The jury agreed with the smokers on all counts, including their claims that the industry deceived them about the dangers of smoking, hid research results, stopped scientific work that promised to produce safer cigarettes and advertised to children. The jury also found that the industry "engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct... with the intent to inflict severe emotional distress."

The us $206 billion national settlement reached with the tobacco industry last year bars states from suing to recoup the costs of treating sick smokers but it does not prohibit lawsuits by individuals such as this one. Now, that the industry has been found liable, the jury will decide on the damages.

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