Jacksonville, FL—A Florida woman’s nearly half-century cigarette addiction was so powerful, she was unable to quit smoking despite 15 years of progressively worsening lung disease, the woman’s attorney said as trial opened Wednesday against R.J. Reynolds. Rozar v. R.J. Reynolds, 2017-CA-004311.
Myra Rozar “tried over and over and over again to quit [smoking]. And she failed over and over and over again, as her lung disease grew worse, to the point that she could barely breathe,” Doffermyre, Shields, Canfield & Knowles’ Robert Shields told jurors. “She described herself as a dead person walking, but she still could not quit smoking.”
Rozar who was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, in 1994, eventually quit smoking in 2009, by doubling up on nicotine patches for eight months, Shields said. Rozar, now 69, contends her cigarette addiction was driven by Reynolds’ involvement in a sweeping scheme to hide the dangers of smoking and led to her respiratory disease.
During Thursday’s openings, Shields told jurors Rozar, who began smoking at 11, and smoked up to two packs a day, was successfully targeted by tobacco industry initiatives designed to glamorize smoking while undercutting scientific evidence concerning smoking’s dangers.
“She believed the lies of the tobacco industry and Reynolds that smoking was not unhealthy for her,” Shields said.
The case is one of thousands of Florida’s so-called Engle progeny lawsuits against the nation’s tobacco companies. They 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 that Engle-progeny 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 through much of the 20th century.
In order to be entitled to those findings, however, each plaintiff must prove class membership by showing nicotine addiction caused a smoking-related disease such as COPD.
On Wednesday, the defense argued Rozar was not swayed by tobacco industry initiatives and that she is responsible for her own smoking decisions. During his opening statement, Jones Day’s Steven Geise told attorneys Rozar’s own testimony would show tobacco messaging did not influence her. “You hear that she was out of control, that she had no choice over the brands or the style [of cigarettes] she smoked, or whether she smoked or not. But that’s not what Mrs. Rozar’s going to tell you,” Geise said. “She will tell you that she decided for herself what to smoke, how much to smoke, and where to smoke.”
Geise also challenged Rozar’s efforts to quit smoking, contending evidence would show no quit attempts from 1997 to 2001, a four-year period well after her COPD diagnosis. "The evidence will be, especially before she had COPD, that there were only a few times that she could recall trying to quit. They can say that they all blur together and you can’t remember them, but there’s only going to be a few times that they can identify.”
Trial in the case is expected to last through next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Myra Rozar is represented by Doffermyre, Shields, Canfield & Knowles’ Robert Shields and John Kalil, of The Law Offices of John Kalil.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s Steven Geise.
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