MIAMI – Ulysee Holliman tried to quit smoking a dozen times; he asked his wife for help, threw away his cigarettes, chewed gum, sucked candy, all to no avail. He died from lung cancer 25 years ago.
In a case brought by his family against cigarette giant Philip Morris, plaintiffs' attorney Eric Rosen argues that chemical addiction killed Holliman.
The trial at the Dade County Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Holliman died in 1993. The case is to determine if Holliman should be allowed to join a class action filed against tobacco companies in Florida in 1994 and if a deliberate campaign of misinformation and conspiracy to deceive by officials of Philip Morris caused Holliman’s death.
Rosen called his first witness, Dr. David J. Drobes, a specialist in the psychology of nicotine addiction with the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. Drobes coordinates a research lab at the facility that develops treatments to help people quit smoking through research and intervention programs.
Rosen exhibited a definition of addiction that characterized it as a “Brain disease of compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences.”
Drobes said Holliman had displayed six characteristics of addiction according to a set of criteria called DSM-5 including using large amounts of cigarettes, recurrent and hazardous use (smoking in bed).
“I believe he (Holliman) had a severe tobacco use disorder,” Drobes told a jury.
“Do you have an opinion whether Holliman was addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine?” Rosen asked.
“Yes I do. He was addicted to nicotine in cigarettes,” Drobes responded.
“Was the addiction the primary barrier to quit smoking cigarettes?”
“I believe that to be the case,” Drobes said.
Drobes agreed the nicotine in cigarettes was the reason Holliman continued to smoke.
“My opinion is that his addiction to nicotine caused his lung cancer,” he said.
A document Rosen displayed explained that nicotine acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system resulting in an automatic arousal in the body.
Under cross examination, Walter Cofer, the Kansas City attorney defending Philip Morris asked Drobes if smoking is a complex behavior.
“It is,” Drobes agreed.
“Some smokers smoke to relax,” Cofer said.
“Many report that,” Drobes said.
“Some (smokers) report it helps them to concentrate.”
“Some do,” Drobes said.
Brain receptors, or a sensing of stimuli in the brain, when influenced by cigarette smoke and nicotine, release a substance called dopamine that can produce feelings of pleasure and comfort.
Cofer asked Drobes if drinking coffee or looking at a family picture could also produce dopamine.
“Quite possibly yes, anything pleasurable,” Drobes said.
Cofer asked Drobes if millions of smokers had decided to quit smoking.
“Some do, many do not,” Drobes said. “There are more former smokers than current smokers.”
Drobes said he used to smoke but quit when he began to study tobacco addiction.
Cofer asked Drobes about prior testimony in which he had stated that of millions of former smokers who had quit, the majority had been addicted to nicotine.
“I did say yes in the context,” Drobes answered.
“In your assessment you used your clinical judgment?” Cofer asked.
“Yes,” Drobes responded.
“You agree others could differ, right?”
Drobes indicated he would like to find out how they differed.
“You reached a professional opinion,” Cofer said.
“That’s what I’ve done,” Drobes said, adding that addiction criteria had been developed by people with experience and knowledge.
“You’re saying that if someone disagrees with you they’re unreasonable, right?” Cofer asked.
“That could be true,” Drobes responded.
Under redirect Rosen asked Drobes to define addiction memory.
Drobes explained that even if someone stopped smoking and their brain receptors returned to normal, any new exposure to tobacco will develop a longing for the drug much faster.
“You can quickly go back to a fully-addicted brain,” he said.
Evidence presented estimated that there are 60 million smokers in the U.S. who quit smoking.
During the afternoon session, Ruby Holliman, Holliman’s widow, appeared on the stand to answer questions about how she had obtained medical records on her husband from a Florida hospital. She said her husband had stayed in hospital five days and was then released.
“The doctor told us there was nothing more they could do for him,” she said.