Miami, FL— Defective cigarette design hooked a former law enforcement officer to cigarettes and ultimately cost him his voice box, an attorney for the man said as trial opened against Philip Morris. Principe v. Philip Morris, 2017-CA-025772.
“[Philip Morris] purposely manipulate[s] the nicotine level in each cigarette to cause addiction,” The Alvarez Law Firm's Alex Alvarez told jurors, in describing what he says led Ed Principe to smoke up to 3 packs of cigarettes a day for more than 20 years. “They know how much it takes, and they put it to that level and above to cause addiction.”
Principe, 65, began smoking as a teenager, favoring Philip Morris’s various Marlboro brands during service in the Marines and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Although he quit smoking in 1998, doctors diagnosed him with laryngeal cancer in 2016 that forced the removal of his voice box.
On Monday, Alvarez noted Philip Morris had briefly sold nicotine-free designs but pulled them from the market because they weren’t making enough money on the products.
Alvarez added that the defective design was exacerbated by Philip Morris’s participation in a tobacco industry conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking while fraudulently marketing “light,” “low-tar,” and filtered cigarettes as safer alternatives.
Alvarez’s co-counsel, Nick Reyes, told jurors those marketing claims resonated with a health-conscious Principe who smoked filtered cigarettes and at one point switched to Marlboro Lights. “He thought they were safer,” Reyes said. “And the tobacco industry wanted him to believe that.”
The case is relatively unusual among Florida’s tobacco litigation in that it is not one of the state's thousands of so-called Engle progeny lawsuits against the nation’s tobacco companies. Unlike, Engle cases, in which underlying product defect claims have already been decided against the tobacco companies, Principe must prove his defect claim independently.
During Monday's openings, Shook Hardy’s Bruce Tepikian, representing Philip Morris, challenged the contention that cigarettes are defectively designed. Tepikian told jurors the product is inherently dangerous but legal, like many products that are sold widely. And he said nicotine in cigarettes was a central reason many people enjoyed smoking, akin to alchool in beer or wine. As a result, he said, a nicotine-free, non-inhalable alternative design advocated by plaintiff’s expert Robert Proctor would create a product that may be safer, but ultimately would not be not a cigarette.
“It’s like saying you’ve got to make a knife that’s a spoon, so you can’t cut yourself,” Tepikian said.
Kim Vaughan Lerner’s Robert Vaughan contended that, in any event, Principe had been warned for years about the dangers of cigarettes and had actually quit for three months in 1979, after doctors diagnosed him with an inflammatory disease.
However, he said, Principe chose to return to cigarettes, clear-eyed as to their risks. “It was Mr. Principe’s decision to wait almost 20 years before finally quitting [permanently]. He wasn’t waiting for any new information from Philip Morris, from his doctors, from anybody else,” Vaughan said. “The evidence will be that he had the information to successfully stop smoking in 1979, if he decided that that’s what he wanted to do.”
Trial is expected to last into next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
Ed Principe is represented by The ALvarez Law Firm’s Alex Alvarez and Nick Reyes.
Philip Morris is represented by Kim Vaughan Lerner’s Robert Vaughan and Shook Hardy’s Bruce Tepikian.
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