FORT LAUDERDALE – The defense appeared to keep to its people-knew-the-dangers strategy while plaintiff attorneys said dishonest denials from cigarette companies continued almost to this day in a lawsuit launched by a woman alleging her lungs were irreparably damaged by cigarette smoke.
Eric Rosen the attorney for plaintiff Karla Zingaro, asked Dr. Kenneth Cummings, a professor at the Hollings Center Cancer Prevention Institute at the Medical University of South Carolina, what officials at R.J. Reynolds were still saying about their regular cigarettes into the 1980s and beyond.
“They were saying they [cigarettes] are not dangerous,” Cummings said.
Coverage of the trial in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Zingaro and her husband Robert are suing Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds for the lung cancer and emphysema suffered by the wife, saying the companies were liable for the highly addictive cigarettes they sold.
Zingaro, 65, started smoking as a teenager and continued smoking up to two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years. She attempted to quit repeatedly to no avail. She said she finally quit in 2009 after using an E-cigarette, an electronic device that delivers nicotine to the brain without the chemical compounds in a normal cigarette.
Nevertheless, her attorneys said the irreparable damage to Zingaro’s lungs had been done, requiring two radiation treatments for lung cancer and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) that greatly reduced her breathing function that has grown worse over the past three years.
Zingaro's attorneys accuse the cigarette companies of engaging in a decades-long conspiracy to coordinate efforts to deceive and defraud the public by denying the evidence that cigarette smoking is dangerous to health.
Defense attorneys, however, countered that Zingaro should have known the dangers of smoking and kept smoking anyway, exercising free choice, and it so bears responsibility for her own health problems.
Chemicals present in cigarette smoke called “tobacco-specific nitrosamines” that Cummings explained are compounds in cigarette smoke that become potent lung carcinogens. He said they resulted in cigarettes because of the way cigarettes were cured during the 1960s and later. Cigarettes were cured in metal containers using heat, but without ventilation, causing the development of the carcinogens.
“Did the public know that?” Rosen asked
“No,” Cummings said.
Rosen exhibited for the jury print advertisements for cigarettes dating from the early 1900s. One was titled “Smoking Good for Health, while another was headlined, “Advising Women to Smoke.”
In 1953 Claude Teague, an assistant chief of research at R.J. Reynolds, was asked to review epidemiological and animal studies in what became known as the “Survey of Cancer Research and Possible Carcinogens from Tobacco” study.
Cummings said the study findings pointed to a likely link between smoking and lung cancer.
“What was Teague told to do [by cigarette officials] with the report?” Rosen asked.
“He was told to destroy it,” Cummings said.
Cummings said less than a year later, cigarette company officials were again saying there was no proof that smoking was a cause of cancer.
“They were telling people cigarette smoking and nicotine were not addictive and that was right up until the 2000s,” Cummings said.
Sales of cigarettes began dropping in the 1960s with the growing body of evidence and concern about the dangers of smoking. The plaintiffs' attorneys displayed documents they contend show that cigarette-makers focused on younger smokers to help preserve a falling “market share.”
Congress in 1966 required labels on cigarette packages that warned smoking may be hazardous to health.
Rosen exhibited a cigarette company inter-office communication written at the time that read: “A new brand [cigarette] aimed at the young group [smokers] should not be promoted as a ‘health brand’ and perhaps should carry some implied risk. In this case the warning label on the package may be a plus.”
A central premise of defense strategy during the trial has been to contend that smokers had plenty of warning to know that smoking caused diseases like lung cancer and that millions of people had made the choice to quit----as Zacaro should have done.
Robert C.L. Vaughan, attorney for Philip Morris, asked Cummings if smoking among youth had hit record lows by the 1990s, declining nearly 90 percent over previous decades.
“Yes, the behavior [smoking] among adolescents had been going down, ” Cummings agreed.
“Youth smoking in Florida also reflected declining use?” Vaughan asked.
“The answer is yes,” Cummings agreed.
“Since 1998, the percentage of Florida youth who smoked one cigarette in the last 30 days has declined by nearly 75 percent, correct?” Vaughan asked.
“Yes,” Cummings answered.
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