- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A state court jury yesterday ordered the tobacco industry to pay more than $590 million for nicotine patches, telephone hot lines, advertising and other programs to help Louisiana smokers kick the habit.

Legal experts believe the verdict marks the first time a jury has found that tobacco companies should pay for such programs.

“For the first time ever in this country, a jury has awarded a comprehensive smoking cessation program, not dollar damages,” lawyer Joseph Bruno said. “Instead the jury approved what is needed to help those addicted to smoking.”

Tobacco lawyers said they would immediately appeal, and the case could drag on for years in the courts before Big Tobacco actually spends any money on the programs. The next and final phase of the trial will determine how the programs will run, but that portion cannot begin until appeals of yesterday’s ruling are complete.

The verdict by a jury in state civil district court in Orleans Parish covers hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents who smoked before the mid-1990s, when the suit was filed. None of the smokers in the lawsuit can get individual damages.

Lawyers for the smokers in the class-action lawsuit had wanted $1 billion for smoking cessation programs — an amount tobacco lawyers deemed excessive. They said two to three years of programs, at up to $9 million a year, would give smokers time to get counseling and try various aids to quit smoking.

The lawsuit also had wanted the programs to last up to 25 years, but jurors set a limit of 10 years.

The verdict came in the second phase of a lengthy trial.

In July, the same jury found that cigarette makers had deceived the public with an addictive product and schemed to market cigarettes to children. It rejected calls for medical monitoring for present and former smokers, but said the industry should provide free smoking-cessation programs.

The current phase was to determine how much the industry should spend on the programs and what those programs should be. The third phase — to determine how the programs will work — will be held without the jury.

R.J. Reynolds Co. attorney Phillip A. Wittmann said his appeal would include a challenge of an earlier ruling by the court that cigarettes are a defective product. He said jurors found they were not defective, so the trial should have ended there.

Gloria Scott, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, said she started smoking in 1954, when she was 6, and was given free samples from stores. She was only able to quit when she was diagnosed with lung cancer four years ago.

“It’s fantastic. It’s fabulous. I’m so excited,” she said. “I know that 6-year-olds will never be given cigarettes again, and people won’t have to smoke until they can get lung cancer. They can get treatment. They can quit.”

The jury heard about two months of testimony and deliberated for three days before returning the verdict.

The $590 million also will go toward supplies of nicotine gum and grants for antismoking programs in church groups and other organizations.

The defendants are R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Philip Morris USA and Brown & Williamson.

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