Lawyer: Big Tobacco Hasn't Changed


Monday, May 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


MIAMI (AP) — Big Tobacco has not truly changed its ways and should be punished financially for decades of misconduct, an attorney seeking punitive damages for sick smokers told a jury today. A tobacco attorney countered that the industry has changed a lot.

``They're on the same page they always were on,'' attorney Stanley Rosenblatt said in opening statements as jurors begin considering a possible multibillion-dollar punitive verdict. ``These defendants most assuredly have not truly changed.''

The same jury already has ruled against the industry and awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages to three smokers representing approximately 300,000 to 500,000 sick Florida smokers.

As the tobacco response got under way, lead tobacco attorney Dan Webb agreed the main issue is ``have they gotten the message.''

``What this case is really about is whether these tobacco companies have changed,'' he said. ``There's an enormous disagreement.'' He promised to present ``significant and compelling evidence'' about how the tobacco companies conduct their business today and changes in conduct in recent years.

``There are new people at the top. There's a new attitude,'' he said. ``The companies are walking the extra mile to deal with different smoking and health issues.''

The case is the nation's only statewide lawsuit seeking damages for hundreds of thousands of people with smoking-related injuries.

The 1994 lawsuit lists a $100 billion request, but Rosenblatt completed his remarks without suggesting an amount for punitive damages. Michael Szymanczyk, president and CEO of industry-leading Philip Morris Inc., said in a deposition May 10 that his company could not afford to split a $50 billion award.

Rosenblatt flipped through several current magazines to support his claims that the tobacco industry has not changed its advertising approach to kids.

Slapping himself on the wrist as a sign of what cigarette makers want, Rosenblatt said the defendants would say, ``We've become good boys and girls and we're learned our lesson.'' But the industry has simply adopted ``a new public relations strategy to create the appearance of change rather than the reality or substance of change.'' He said true change would require an admission of misconduct and an apology.

Punitive damages are intended to punish wrongdoing and to warn and deter others. Rosenblatt noted the industry has yet to pay ''10 cents'' to any smoker in compensatory or punitive damages.

In Washington today, the Supreme Court rejected the industry's attempt to replace the judge presiding over the case, Robert Kaye. Cigarette makers had complained that Kaye is an ex-smoker with a heart ailment — and therefore could potentially share in any monetary award. The court tossed out the complaint without comment.

Besides Philip Morris, the defendants are R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Liggett Group Inc., the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute.

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On the Net:

Philip Morris: http://www.philipmorris.com

R.J. Reynolds: http://www.rjrt.com

Brown & Williamson: http://www.brownandwilliamson.com

American Lung Association: http://www.lungusa.org/tobacco

Action on Smoking and Health: http://www.ash.org/

Tobacco Products Liability Project: http://www.tobacco.neu.edu