Philip Morris Criticized for ‘Misinformation’ About Risks of Smoking in Los Angeles Tobacco Lawsuit
In opening arguments of a California smoker's case against Philip Morris Cos.Philip Morris Cos., the plaintiff's attorney yesterday "blasted" the company for the distribution of "a steady stream of misinformation, disinformation and half truths" over more than 40 years about the risks of smoking, the Wall Street Journal reports. Attorney Michael Piuze told jurors in Los Angeles Superior Court that the campaign by Philip Morris and other tobacco companies amounted to "the largest fraud scheme that's ever been perpetrated by corporations anywhere. And the results of it aren't measured in lost pension dollars. They're measured in millions of lives" (Fairclough, Wall Street Journal, 8/21). In the case, Betty Bullock, a 63-year-old Newport Beach woman diagnosed with lung cancer after decades of smoking Philip Morris cigarettes, is suing the company for alleged negligence, fraud and the manufacture of a defective product (California Healthline, 8/19). In his opening statement, Piuze said, "We will show what I believe is the largest fraud scheme ever perpetrated by corporations anywhere" (Avery, AP/Nando Times, 8/20). The case marks the first against a tobacco company to reach trial since the state Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that California smokers can file suit against the tobacco industry for fraud and negligence but cannot present most evidence of the industry's conduct between 1988, when the state enacted a law to protect tobacco companies from lawsuits, and 1998, when the state repealed the law (California Healthline, 8/19). The case "could help show whether this restriction on the evidence that can be used by plaintiffs will actually help the companies defend themselves" in California, the Journal reports.
Lawsuits filed by individual smokers in the state have become the "most serious legal threat" to tobacco companies. The industry has lost three consecutive multimillion-dollar cases in California and has not found an "effective way to defend itself before West Coast juries," the Journal reports. Attorneys for Philip Morris have moved to a "back-to-basics approach in this trial, trying to focus jurors' attention on the plaintiff rather than on the company's conduct," the Journal reports. In his opening statement, Philip Morris attorney Peter Bleakley argued that Bullock "knew that smoking was dangerous. She knew for 30 years that it was actually damaging her health as she did it" (Wall Street Journal, 8/21).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.