West Palm Beach, FL—A tobacco industry scheme to undermine medical evidence of smoking’s risks led to a Florida woman’s fatal cancer, an attorney for the woman’s family said Friday, as trial opened against R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris. Landi v. R.J. Reynolds, et al. 2008-CV-025814.
“[The] tobacco [industry] wasn’t targeting any one person, they were targeting [the] entire population,” Scott Schlesinger, of Schlesinger Law Offices, P.A., told jurors in describing a marketing campaign he said swayed the smoking decisions of Marion “Betty” Landi and millions of others for decades. "They were shaping, they were broadly shaping, public perception and influencing, subtly but powerfully, with wall-to-wall advertising, and they could shape messages that would broadly influence public opinion.”
Landi, who was a regular smoker by her early 20s and smoked 1-2 packs of cigarettes a day for decades, died of lung cancer in 1999, at 69. Her husband, Herbert, contends R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris are responsible for his wife’s death by addicting her to a product that they knew was dangerous.
During his opening Friday, Schlesinger highlighted years of internal tobacco industry documents he said showed a conspiracy to sway smokers’ choices, target women, and cast doubt on the growing weight of evidence surrounding the risks of cigarettes.
Schlesinger said he expected Landi’s family to say she smoked Virginia Slims because they were more "feminine" and filtered brands because they were “safer,” which fell in line with messaging, much of it false, driven by tobacco companies. Schlesinger read from memos in which tobacco executives described filters on cigarettes as “an effective advertising gimmick” and filtration as an “illusion.”
“The tragedy of it was it actually made the cigarettes more dangerous, more deadly,” Schlesinger said. “In any event they knew that filters weren’t working.”
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.
To be entitled to damages, however, each plaintiff must, at a minimum, prove addiction that led to a smoking-related disease, such as lung cancer.
As openings continued Monday, the defense argued Landi knew of smoking’s dangers for years but did not try to quit in time to prevent her cancer. In his opening statement, King & Spalding’s Randall Bassett, representing Reynolds, told jurors Herbert Landi would acknowledge he and his wife had seen and understood warnings on cigarette packs for decades before Landi tried to quit. “What we’re left with is at least more than two decades—the 1950s, the 1960s, even into the 1970s—where Mrs. Landi has information about the dangers of smoking, understands that information, makes no effort to quit whatsoever, even despite her own husband quitting smoking,” Bassett said. “Had Mrs. Landi [taken] steps toward quitting at the same time Mr. Landi did, or even later into the 1960s, or even into the 1970s... she wouldn’t have gotten a cancer in 1994, and certainly not the cancer that plaintiffs claim here was caused by smoking.”
Philip Morris’ attorney, Andrew Brenner, of Boies Schiller, agreed and challenged the argument that addiction drove Landi to smoke. During his opening Monday, Brenner said that, while plaintiffs were expected to offer evidence Landi failed in several quit attempts, “The [family members] all agree that the first time Ms. Landi, not for anyone else, but for herself, made the decision that she was going to quit smoking, she put down her cigarettes cold turkey and didn’t smoke again,” Brenner said. “She did it cold turkey on the day when she decided that it was what she wanted to do.”
Trial is expected to last into next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Herbert Landi is represented by Scott Schlesinger, Jonathan Gdanski, Steven Hammer, and Brittany Chambers, of Schlesinger Law Offices, P.A.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Randall Bassett, Kathryn Lehman, Val Leppert, and Lindsay Macon, of King & Spalding.
Philip Morris is represented by Andrew Brenner, of Boies, Schiller & Flexner.
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