Doffermyre Shields' Bob Shields began his opening statement to the jury, in the retrial of Warrick v. R.J. Reynolds, "It was just before Christmas in 1953 when the heads of the major tobacco companies got together for a secret meeting at the Plaza Hotel in New York City to decide what to do about the mounting scientific evidence that cigarette smoking caused cancer.
"But rather than approach it as a serious medical problem for their customers, the evidence is going to show they instead decided to deal with it as a public relations matter. They hired the country's largest PR firm, and put together a plan to create front organizations to deny that cigarettes cause lung cancer, to smear and attack the scientists who claimed that cigarettes cause lung cancer, and to engage in a coordinated campaign of denial and deception.
"And as the evidence mounted in the next few years, so that it was overwhelming that cigarettes caused cancer, they continued their campaign for the next 45 years. It was not until 1999 when they finally admitted the truth."
Mr. Shields told the jury that Eveline Warrick was born in 1936. She started smoking at age 13, in 1949, at a time when cigarette smoking was culturally accepted. She was addicted to cigarette smoking by at least the late 1950's. She tried to quite smoking starting in 1990, and it took her a decade before she succeeded in late 2000. But it was too late, said Mr. Shields. She was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in 1991, and lung cancer in 2009. She died in February, 2010.
For the defense, representing Philip Morris, Shook Hardy Bacon's Ken Reilly told the jury that there would be no debate that smoking causes COPD and lung cancer, and that Ms. Warrick did contract those two illnesses, that both illnesses were caused by her smoking, and that smoking can be addictive.
However, said Mr. Reilly, not everyone who smokes becomes addicted, and not every addicted smoker is unable to stop smoking, and if you quit you can arrest the development of smoking-related illnesses. Moreover, some people smoke because they want to smoke, and for decades, at least, Ms. Warrick fell into that category.
Womble Carlyle's Jonathan Engram, representing R.J. Reynolds, told the jury that the cigarette back warnings alone gave Ms. Warrick 372,300 warnings about the hazards and dangers of smoking. "Every time she saw those warnings she could have decided to quit cigarettes. She could have decided that that cigarette was going to be her very last one, just as she did Thanksgiving, November 2000. And remember, she quit smoking, Thanksgiving, of 2000 cold turkey...no patches, no gums, no hypnosis. None of those things she had tried and failed. She quit cold turkey."
Mr. Engram also told the jury that although Ms. Warrick had smoking-related illness, the evidence would show that she died of a heart attack unrelated to smoking. Mr. Engram told the jury that Ms. Warrick had had a pacemaker implanted, and had abnormal heart rhythms as early as 2001, and her heart was grossly enlarged at the time of her death.