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Attorneys Argue Tobacco Industry's Role in Smoker's COPD, as Trial Against RJR, Philip Morris Starts

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Oct 3, 2018 8:30:58 AM

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Miami— Attorneys Monday argued over what role tobacco industry messaging played in a Florida smoker's respiratory disease, as trial opened against the nation's two largest cigarette makers. Ortiz v. Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, 2008CA000847.

Carlos Ortiz, 60, died in 2008, four years after being diagnosed with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Ortiz, who began smoking as a teenager, continued smoking up to three packs a day throughout his life.

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Ortiz’s family contends a widespread conspiracy involving R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris to hide the dangers of smoking helped hook Ortiz to cigarettes and ultimately led to his COPD.

During Monday’s opening statements, Koch, Parafinczuk, Wolf & Susen’s Austin Carr, representing Ortiz’s family, outlined evidence he said showed the tobacco industry financed research and marketing designed to cast doubt on evidence that smoking was dangerous.

Carr told jurors Ortiz, duped by the tobacco industry scheme, preferred smoking R.J. Reynolds’ Winston-brand cigarettes, then one of the most popular cigarette brands in the country. “He’s fitting right into that whole population, that whole normal smoking behavior, of smoking cigarettes, and [he] chooses the most popular brand,” Carr said. “But, when he’s smoking, the tobacco companies know what the story is.”

However, the defense argues that Ortiz understood the dangers of smoking and did not try to quit in time to stop his respiratory disease. During Monday’s openings, King & Spalding’s Ursula Henninger told jurors there would be no evidence to show Ortiz was ever swayed by tobacco messaging. “There’s not going to be a single witness, at least in their depositions, who told us that [Ortiz] was ever confused about the dangers or addictiveness of smoking. Never,” Henninger said.  “There will be no picture of anyone who was confused or who didn’t know, or questioned it.”

Shook Hardy’s Bruce Tepikian, representing Philip Morris, added there was only scant, vague evidence concerning when and how often Ortiz smoked the company's Marlboro cigarettes, and nothing to link the company’s actions to Ortiz’s smoking choices. “There will be no evidence that Mr. Ortiz relied on any statement from Philip Morris, much less R.J. Reynolds,” Tepikian said. “Or, that anything Philip Morris did, or didn’t do, said, or didn’t… say, [had] any impact on Mr. Ortiz’s decisions to begin smoking or continue smoking.”

Trial is expected to last into next week.

Email Arlin Crisco at acrisco@cvn.com.

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Topics: Ortiz v. Philip Morris, Florida, Engle Progeny, tobacco