- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 15, 2001

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) Jurors rejected a lawsuit yesterday that sought to force four tobacco companies to fund annual medical tests for 250,000 healthy West Virginia smokers.
The six-member jury, nearly all of them former smokers, concluded that cigarettes were not a defective product and manufacturers were not negligent in designing, making or selling them.
Jurors also said smokers with a five-year, pack-a-day habit did have an increased risk of contracting disease, but didn't need medical monitoring.
The lawsuit, essentially structured as a product-liability case with medical monitoring as the proposed remedy for wronged consumers, was the first of its kind to be tried in the United States.
The plaintiffs said the industry-funded screening program could lead to the early detection of lung cancer, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
They contended they deserved the free tests because Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Brown & Williamson manufactured and sold a defective product with no regard for their customers' health.
The smokers wanted annual tests for people 45 and older and more sophisticated exams for those 50 and older. The tobacco companies said the tests were experimental and unproven at diagnosing disease early enough to make any difference.
The first attempt to try the case ended with a mistrial in January after a witness made an apparently inadvertent reference to addiction. That was one of the words banned from testimony after the tobacco companies argued it raised issues of individual behavior and reasons for smoking.
Jurors were asked to reach conclusions about negligence, willful, wanton and reckless conduct, and whether companies failed to keep promises they made to their consumers.
Tobacco stocks rose on news of the settlement. On the New York Stock Exchange, Philip Morris Cos. closed up 58 cents to $47.58, while R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. was up 39 cents to $57.69.


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