In the first day of trial, opposing counsel painted different narratives of Dale Moyer, the long-time smoker at the heart of Heather Irimi, et al. v. R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. et al. Plaintiffs’ attorneys described Moyer as a typical, “generic” smoker taken in by a decades-long tobacco conspiracy that led to a variety of health problems, while defense counsel argued that Moyer willingly chose to smoke, despite knowing the risks.
Irimi is one of the first Engle progeny suits to come to trial in the wake of a record $23.6 billion July verdict against the tobacco industry in another Engle suit, Robinson v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Like many Engle cases, Irimi rests on questions of smoking’s link to Moyer’s health problems and the tobacco industry’s responsibility. Moyer, who smoked for decades, died in 2013 at 83. In the years before his death, he suffered from a variety of health issues, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, skin cancer, parotid cancer, lung cancer, and heart disease.
Scott Schlesinger, representing Moyer’s daughter Heather Irimi and other plaintiff family members, spent the bulk of his two-hour opening statement detailing what he argued was a decades-long tobacco industry cover up of smoking’s dangers while tobacco manufacturers controlled the output of addictive nicotine to boost cigarette sales. “The cigarette is not the product. The cigarette is the package,” Schlesinger said. “Nicotine is the product.”
Schlesinger claimed that Moyer believed the tobacco industry’s claims that filters and “light” cigarettes, varieties touted for their lower tar and nicotine, would be safer, when in fact they were arguably more dangerous. Schlesinger claimed that Moyer opted for cigarettes that were marketed as safer choices over the years, believing the tobacco industry's marketing.
By contrast, Kevin Boyce, representing R.J. Reynolds, painted Moyer as a man who chose to smoke throughout most of his life, despite knowing of smoking’s dangers for several decades. Boyce claimed Moyer’s decision to choose light cigarettes or brands with filters proved that he knew the inherent dangers of smoking. Narrating a timeline of Moyer’s life, Boyce noted that Moyer quit smoking permanently only after he learned of his respiratory problems. “(Moyer) quit smoking successfully the first time he was properly motivated,” Boyce also claimed that Moyer’s decision not to quit smoking earlier was his responsibility. Dale Moyer "was his own man,” Boyce said.
David Woods, representing defendant Lorillard Tobacco Co., supported that argument by quoting Moyer as saying “There is risk in everything.” While acknowledging that smoking causes a variety of health problems including heart disease, emphysema, and COPD, Woods argued that Moyer could have quit smoking years before he did so, potentially sparing many of his medical problems. Woods argued that, while smoking may have been the medical cause of Moyer's health problems, his choice to continue smoking was the legal cause.
However, with their first witness, Robert Proctor, plaintiffs sought to establish that the majority of smokers only continue the habit because of addiction, and that the tobacco industry markets to young smokers to establish that addiction and maintain its customer base. Proctor, a Stanford University professor and author of Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition, testified that smoking addiction begins when smokers first take up the habit, typically as teenagers. Before proceedings concluded for the day, Proctor detailed evidence that the tobacco industry specifically marketed to young smokers with a variety of cigarette brands, types, and flavors.
Irimi is one of thousands of Engle progeny cases in Florida, which stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco suit originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s supreme court ruled Engle cases must be tried individually, it found plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking. However, individual Engle progeny plaintiffs must prove a causal link between smoking and their health problems.
Irimi proceedings will resume on Monday morning.