FORT LAUDERDALE – Karla Zingaro, the plaintiff suing Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds for the lung conditions she suffers, appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday saying she became hooked on smoking at a young age not knowing the dangers from cigarette smoke.
“What did it feel like if you went an hour-and-a-half without a cigarette?” Zingaro’s attorney Todd Falzone asked.
“I would be anxious, I wanted that cigarette,” Zingaro answered.
Zingaro appeared in court connected to an oxygen respirator to help her breathe.
The trial in the 17th Judicial Circuit Florida 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 saying the companies are liable for the addictive nature of the cigarettes they sold and should pay compensatory and punitive damages.
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 but finally was able to 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.
She was diagnosed with lung cancer and received radiation treatments, then a second time when the cancer recurred. She also suffers from emphysema and greatly reduced breathing function.
A mother of two girls with three grandchildren, Zingaro told the jury she has been on oxygen for 10 years.
She described her childhood and growing up in South Florida.
“Did you like South Florida?” Falzone asked.
“I did, (as a child) I lived in Miami Beach and had a girlfriend," Zingaro said. "We would go swimming in my grandmother’s pool. Later we moved to North Miami where I went to junior high school.”
Zingaro said both of her parents smoked. Sometimes she would go alone as a teenager to buy a pack of cigarettes for her mother at a 7-11 store. The cigarettes would be sold to her no questions asked.
“My mother was a chain-smoker,” Zingaro said.
Falzone exhibited popular television shows of the 1960s featuring actors seen smoking cigarettes that plaintiff attorneys maintained was intended to portray smoking as glamorous.
“The advertising made you think smoking was fun?” Falzone asked.
“Right,” Zingaro agreed. “I thought it (advertising) was cute at that age I guess.”
Falzone asked Zingaro if she ever considered that smoking was addictive.
“It never entered my mind,” Zingaro said.
“Did you know that tobacco companies knew smoking was harmful and addictive?” Falzone asked.
“I had no idea,” Zingaro said.
Zingaro said by the time she was 18 she was averaging a pack of cigarettes per day and described it as a “progression,” early-on a couple cigarettes smoked, then up to half a pack, then more.
“Did you know about nicotine when you were a kid?” Falzone asked.
“No,” Zingaro said.
“Did you know that half the people who smoked regularly for a long time would die?”
“Oh no, never.”
Zingaro said she smoked Marlboro cigarettes but also other brands, whatever was available.
“When was your last cigarette of the day?” Falzone asked.
“I’d be in bed,” Zingaro said.
She added that at times she would get up in the middle of the night to smoke a cigarette.
Zingaro agreed she had suffered from anxiety and was told by a physician she had bipolar disorder.
“Did you feel out of control?”
“I was never out of control,” Zingaro said.
Zingaro said she did not smoke to use it as a medicine to feel better, but indicated smoking had become a compulsion.
“When I needed that cigarette, that was all I could think about,” she said.
Falzone asked what she was like when she was trying to quit smoking.
“When I was trying to stop I was anxious, irritable, I was kind of hard to deal with,” Zingaro said. “I wasn’t my pleasant self.”
Falzone exhibited for jury photos of Zingaro as a young woman posing with a cigarette in her hand. He said they looked remarkably like the print advertisements for cigarettes using female models of the 1970s.
“Did you realize you looked similar to these ads?” Falzone asked.
“Object!” called defense attorneys.
“Sustained!” ruled 17th Judicial Circuit Judge Raag Singhal.