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Man alleges Newport cigarette giveaways contributed to his mother's death

BOSTON (AP) _ The son of a woman who died of lung cancer is planning to sue the cigarette maker that gave her free samples when she was a girl, contending the giveaways were aimed at black children.

The lawsuit against Lorillard Tobacco Co., maker of Newport cigarettes, is thought by legal experts to be the first to accuse a tobacco company of targeting black children. It is to be filed Monday in Suffolk Superior Court, The Boston Globe reported in its Saturday editions.

Marie Evans, in interviews with lawyers before she died in 2002 at age 54, said as a child she would get free sample packs of four to 10 Newport cigarettes from a company van that regularly came to the Boston housing project where she lived.

Evans estimated she received free cigarettes 25 to 50 times _ the first sample when she was 9 _ and traded them for candy until she was 13, when she started smoking.

``They have employed these marketing strategies to target not only children, but children in the black community,'' said Rebecca McIntyre of Weisman and McIntyre, which is representing Evans' son, Will Evans.

There is no specific damage request.

Lorillard officials have known that Will Evans was considering a lawsuit for at least two years, but company lawyer Andrew J. McElaney said the Greensboro, N.C.-based company would have no comment until the complaint is filed.

Only 14 out of hundreds of smoker lawsuits filed against tobacco companies in the past 50 years have prevailed, according to Northeastern University's Tobacco Products Liability Project, but the Evans lawsuit undermines the industry's standard argument against adult smokers that they were old enough to know better.

``I don't think any of the other lawsuits have focused on the issue of the deliberate campaign of handing out free samples to a child,'' said Edward L. Sweda Jr., senior staff attorney at the Northeastern center.

State law banned giving cigarettes to children even in the 1950s, but McIntyre said Lorillard was so eager to attract young smokers that it deliberately broke the law.

Will Evans said his mother became a lifelong smoker of Newports, and struggled to quit even after she became.

Evans said his mother believed Lorillard's assurances that its products did not cause cancer, despite evidence to the contrary. After she was diagnosed with cancer, she became angry at the way Lorillard seduced her into smoking and she continued depositions in preparation for the lawsuit until the final weeks of her life.

Greg Connolly, the former director of the state's anti-smoking campaign, said Newports and other menthol cigarettes have been targeted to black youth, noting that more than half of black teenage smokers choose the Newport brand.

Norman Black, the creative director for the advertising agency that promoted Newport from 1974 to 1992, said his ad campaigns were geared toward young people, though not necessarily blacks, since they smoked Newports in large numbers anyway.

McIntyre said she has evidence that Lorillard tried to hook young smokers, including a 1963 memo from a top advertising executive to Lorillard's vice president that read: ``There's nothing like starting them out young!''

Michael D. Weisman, who is also working on the Evans case, expects Lorillard to try ``to bury us in paperwork,'' but he says it won't work.

``They set out to addict a child, addicted her and then killed her,'' he said. ``We will have a trial.''
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