Opening Arguments Begin in Lawsuit Filed by Marina Del Rey Smoker Against Philip Morris
Opening arguments began yesterday in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Philip Morris USA by a California resident who smoked for 46 years, a case that could test recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to limit punitive damage awards, the Wall Street Journal reports. Attorneys for the plaintiff, 64-year old Marina Del Rey resident Fredric Reller, said that Reller smoked Marlboro or Benson & Hedges Menthol cigarettes, both Philip Morris products, for about 40 years and quit before he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2000. The lawsuit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages, alleges that Philip Morris misled Reller with "46 years of lying and putting out false information" about the health risks and addictiveness of cigarettes. Michael Piuze, an attorney for Reller, yesterday argued that tobacco companies such as Philip Morris "publicly maintained that cigarettes were safe, while privately suppressing evidence to the contrary," the Journal reports. He added that Reller, a businessman, was "more likely to believe industry leaders than to believe antismoking proponents" about the safety of cigarettes, the Journal reports. However, Beth Wilkinson, an attorney for Philip Morris, raised doubts about whether the company influenced Reller in his decision to smoke. She argued that Reller became addicted to cigarettes when he began to smoke Pall Mall cigarettes, which are not manufactured by Philip Morris (Cheddar Berk/O'Connell, Wall Street Journal, 6/12). The case marks the first smoker lawsuit to reach trial after recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that "suggested there should be a less than 10-to-1 ratio" between punitive damages and compensatory damages awarded in lawsuits, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports (Sawy, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 6/12).
In other tobacco news, state officials yesterday unveiled two anti-tobacco advertisements that will appear in publications that target gays and lesbians, the first time the state has spent anti-tobacco funds specifically to reach gay audiences, the New York Times reports. According to state officials, the smoking rate among gays and lesbians in California is 70% higher than the rate among the general population. Department of Health Services Director Dr. Diana Bonta said, "The state's lesbian and gay communities smoke at distressingly high rates." In one ad, the text states that smoking is the leading cause of death among individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. The second ad states that tobacco companies promote their products to gays and lesbians (Broder, New York Times, 6/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.