As the first full week of trial in Irimi v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. drew to a close, jurors on Friday heard Dale Moyer recount how he began smoking and how he became addicted to the cigarettes that his daughter claims eventually caused an array of health problems before his death.
Plaintiffs' counsel played a series of Moyer’s videotaped depositions that were recorded prior to his death in 2013. In them, Moyer describes how he first smoked when he was nine years old, sneaking cigarettes with friends in a makeshift fort. “It was a crate caskets are shipped in,” Moyer said. “We’d smoke in there.”
Moyer testified how he eventually became a two-pack-a-day smoker as an adult. He said he remembered the publication of scientific evidence on the dangers of smoking, including a 1964 Surgeon General's report, as well as tobacco industry statements "debunking" the evidence. Later, he said he tried to quit smoking through a variety of methods over the years, including hypnosis and slowing reducing the number of cigarettes he smoked. "I kept trying to cut back, without success," Moyer said. "(But) I'd wind up smoking just as much or more."
"I was a smoker, you know, so I smoked through thick and thin," Moyer said.
Moyer's daughter Heather Irimi and other family members sued R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard Tobacco Co., and Liggett Group Inc., claiming the tobacco manufacturers were part of a conspiracy to cover up the dangers of smoking, while ensuring smokers such as Moyer remained addicted to the nicotine in their cigarettes. Irimi is one of thousands of Engle progeny tobacco suits, and one of the first to be tried after a Pensacola jury awarded another Engle plaintiff $23.6 billion in punitive damages against tobacco industry defendants in Cynthia Robinson v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, et al.
Experts Testify on Tobacco Conspiracy and Addiction
Moyer’s deposition follows days of testimony from plaintiffs' experts detailing the intricacies of nicotine addiction as well as the history of tobacco marketing and its cover up of smoking’s dangers. Robert Proctor, a Stanford University professor and author of Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition, described five decades of tobacco industry efforts to “disprove, deny, dispute, distract” mounting public evidence that smoking was dangerous, despite the industry’s own knowledge that cigarettes were harmful. He said cigarette marketing efforts caused a “huge epidemic of smoking that’s taken the lives of tens of millions of Americans.”
Later, Daniel Seidman, a Columbia University faculty member and smoking cessation practitioner, testified that smoking addiction is so powerful that many smokers continue the habit even after being diagnosed with severe illnesses. “You’d be amazed to see how many people who have asthma, lung disease, and have already had a heart attack continue to smoke.” Seidman said that Moyer bore the hallmarks of a heavily addicted smoker and that his need for nicotine increased as time went on. “Decade after decade he ended up smoking more,” Seidman said. “Just to stay normal, just to keep his brain normal, he was always seeking more and more nicotine.”
However, on cross-examination, Kevin Boyce, an attorney for R.J. Reynolds, challenged Seidman’s opinion that Moyer was strongly addicted to nicotine. Boyce raised the issue of whether Moyer had ever been committed to quit smoking prior to being diagnosed with respiratory problems in the '90s.
Among other issues, plaintiffs must prove that Moyer was addicted to smoking in order to be considered members of the Engle class and entitled to its findings. Irimi, as other Engle progeny cases, arises from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class action suit originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s supreme court ruled Engle cases must be tried individually, it found qualifying Engle progeny plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including that tobacco companies conspired to hide the dangers of smoking and sold a dangerous, addictive product.
Trial resumes on Monday morning.