Miami, FL—Attorneys Monday battled over whether choice or addiction drove a Cuban immigrant to smoke as many as 4 packs of cigarettes a day for 45 years, as trial over his lung cancer opened against the country's biggest cigarette maker. Chacon v. Philip Morris, 08-102-CA-09.
Robiel Chacon died in 1996, two years after being diagnosed with lung cancer and following decades of smoking Philip Morris' Malboro-brand cigarettes.
His widow, Elsa Chacon, claims her husband's cancer was caused by nicotine addiction and Philip Morris' participation in a sweeping conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking.
But during Monday's openings, Shook Hardy's Frank Kelly, representing the tobacco giant, noted Chacon's smoking began when he was an 11-year old sneaking cigarettes from his gradfather's store in Cuba, and continued for years before he moved to the U.S. "Mr. Chacon came to the United States as a regular, daily smoker, and he continued to be a regular, daily smoker while he lived here, and he made the choices and decisions," Kelly told jurors. "Those are his choices that he has a right to make… and with the right comes the obligations and the responsibilities of the consequences of those decisions."
Kelly claimed that, in the 45 years Chacon smoked, he never made a serious, documented quit attempt until after his cancer diagnosis. "And after he quit for good there is no reference in the medical records to any withdrawal symptoms he suffered," Kelly said. "He quit for good without any request for nicotine replacement therapy or any other kind of medical assistance to quit smoking."
But Elsa Chacon's attorney, The Alvarez Law Firm's Alex Alvarez, told jurors her husband was so addicted to nicotine that smoking took center stage throughout much of his daily life. Alvarez contended Chacon lit a cigarette each day upon waking up, smoked in bed, and chain-smoked because of his need for nicotine.
That 4-pack-a-day need, Alvarez said, led Chacon to spend more than 9 hours a day with a cigarette in his hand, likely more time than he slept at night.
Alvarez told jurors nicotine addiction served as the driver to Chacon's eventual cancer. "Addiction causes somebody to smoke, it causes you to continue to smoke, and if you continue to smoke it could cause lung cancer, and that lung cancer could result in your death. That’s the mechanism," Alvarez said.
Chacon's case, like thousands of similar lawsuits, stems from the 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco case originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s high court ruled Engle cases must be tried individually, it found plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had hidden the dangers of smoking. To rely on those findings, individual Engle progeny plaintiffs must establish a causal link between deceptive tobacco marketing, addiction, and smoking-related disease.
Trial is expected to continue through the end of next week.
Elsa Chacon is represented by the Alvarez Law Firm's Alex Alvarez.
Philip Morris is represented by Shook Hardy's Frank Kelly.
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