MIAMI — A psychologist testifying in a lawsuit against cigarette maker Philip Morris—brought by the family of a man who died of lung cancer—said on Wednesday that Ulysee Holliman did not meet nine of 11 recognized characteristics of physical addiction, disagreeing with a basic contention made by attorneys for the plaintiff.
“Would meeting two of the 11 criteria rise to the level of addiction?” a defense attorney for Philip Morris asked.
“No, he would be in a mild tobacco use disorder,” said Daphne Dorce, a Palm Beach psychologist and a specialist in addiction medicine called as a witness by the defense.
Coverage of the trial in the Dade County Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Philip Morris is being sued for allegedly causing the death of Holliman in 1993. The trial will determine if punitive damages should be levied against the tobacco company for fraud and conspiracy to conceal information about the dangers of smoking and if Holliman will be allowed to join a class of Florida residents who filed suit against tobacco companies in 1994.
During the trial attorneys for the plaintiff contended that physical addition to nicotine resulted in Holliman’s developing lung cancer. Defense attorneys countered that he made his own choice to continue smoking knowing the dangers when he could of quit and so bears personal responsibility for what happened.
Dorce was asked to differentiate between addiction to tobacco and drugs such as heroin and cocaine. She said unlike hard drugs, people are often able to quit smoking without hospitalization and do so remaining at home and without interruption to their work.
Dopamine, a chemical released by neurons in the brain, produces a pleasurable response to the body and can occur in a number of ways from exercise or having sex, or to substance abuse, Dorce said.
“If someone smokes a cigarette is it comparable to heroin?” she was asked.
“No,” Dorce said. “You have a moderate range with nicotine. There is an increase with alcohol.”
Dorce said the dopamine reaction increases yet again with a drug such as heroin that she called an “explosion” of dopamine.
She disagreed with the suggestion that quitting smoking is harder to stop than a drug like heroin.
Smokers who were not addicted to nicotine could also show withdrawal symptoms, Dorce noted.
“Is there anything in nicotine that prevents a person from making the decision to quit smoking?”
“No,” Dorce responded.
“Does everyone who quits smoking succeed on their first attempt?”
“No, you usually see three to five efforts before they quit.”
According to testimony from Holliman’s family, he did not make a first attempt to quit smoking until the 1980s—over 20 years after starting. Family members said he would sometimes throw cigarettes in the trash or chew gum as a substitute, but after three or four days would resume smoking.
Dorce called the evidence on Holliman’s attempts to quit smoking differing and “vague.”
She agreed people often don’t quit until they begin to experience health problems because then the issue becomes personal. Dorce added it wasn’t until 1992 that Holliman started having health issues and a year later he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
The defense exhibited for the jury 11 criteria recognized by health experts indicating tobacco addiction. They include hazardous use (smoking in bed), cravings, use of larger amounts, neglecting family and job duties to use, withdrawal symptoms, repeated attempts to quit and physical or psychological problems related to use.
Dorce said Holliman had only met the cravings and tolerance (the need to smoke more to get the same effect) portions of the list.
Under cross examination, Eric Rosen, the plaintiff attorney, gained agreement from Dorce that a colleague had recommended her to tobacco companies to review cases starting back in 2007.
“You get paid $500 per hour?” Rosen asked.
“That’s correct,” Dorce responded.
“You made a little over a million dollars in cases like this?”
Rosen referred to literature on tobacco use.
“Cravings for sweet or surgery foods and impairment on tasks requiring vigilance are associated with tobacco withdrawal. Did I read that accurately?”
“Yes,” Dorce answered.
Questioned about when Holliman had started smoking, Dorce said he had been observed smoking at the age of 18. She agreed in the 1980s he had attempted to quit between six to 20 times.
“Your opinion was he was not addicted a single day in his life, right?”
“Yes,” Dorce responded.
“He didn’t even have a mild tobacco use disorder, that’s your opinion?”
“Yes," Dorce said. "Up until his [cancer] diagnosis, it wasn’t affecting him in any way.”
“Well it affected him when he died, right?” Rosen asked.
“Objection,” the defense attorney called.
“Sustained!” Judicial 11th Circuit Judge Jose Rodriguez ruled.