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Massachusetts Jury Hears Openings in Wrongful Death Tobacco Trial Against RJR & Grocery Chain

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Mar 14, 2019 3:47:17 PM

Smoking-woman

Stock image. 


Dedham, MA—A Massachusetts nurse who died from lung cancer was the victim of dangerous cigarette design and a scheme to undermine evidence of smoking’s risks, an attorney for the nurse’s family told jurors Tuesday, as trial began against R.J. Reynolds and a New England grocery chain. Lagadimas v. R.J. Reynolds, et al., 1582-CV-01474.

“This case is basically about two things: a corporation that’s greedy and an addicted smoker,”  Andrew Rainer, of Northeastern University School of Law's Public Health Advocacy Institute, told Massachusetts Superior Court jurors before highlighting a campaign he said hooked Dawn O’Toole to cigarettes for more than four decades. “[The tobacco industry’s] goal, through advertising, through a reassurance campaign, was to get customers for life. To get somebody addicted to their product who will keep using it their whole life.”

O’Toole, a registered nurse with a background in respiratory therapy, began smoking as a teenager, preferring Newports, a brand made by Lorillard until Reynolds bought the company in 2015. She ultimately died in 2012, at 54, from lung cancer. 

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In addition to Reynolds, the family is suing Big Y Foods, a grocery chain where O’Toole bought her cigarettes. However, its liability is predicated largely on claims against Reynolds, Lorillard’s successor.  

On Tuesday, Rainer walked jurors through corporate documents he said showed Lorillard and other companies engaged in a widespread marketing campaign to cast doubt on the medical warnings regarding cigarettes. Meanwhile, Rainer said, Lorillard manipulated nicotine levels and added chemicals such as ammonia to make its cigarettes addictive as possible. “There was a safer alternative product, and a safer Newport, that they could have made,” Rainer said, pointing to a mothballed company proposal to market a cigarette with ultra-low nicotine levels. “[Lorillard] actually considered making a safer product, and decided not to.”

Rainer said the marketing campaign duped O’Toole, while the nicotine in Newports hooked her to smoking, leading to several failed quit attempts before her cancer diagnosis.

But Reynolds’ attorney, Jones Day’s Kevin Boyce, took issue with that contention, contending O’Toole was never interested in quitting smoking in time to avoid her cancer. “I don’t think you’ll see any evidence that Mrs. O’Toole even went 24 hours without smoking in the 40 years between 1970 and 2010,” Boyce said.

Boyce told jurors O’Toole knew cigarettes were dangerous, from publicly available warnings and her own healthcare training, but chose to smoke. “There will be no evidence in this case that Mrs. O’Toole did not know or understand the risks of smoking,” Boyce said, adding there was no proof tobacco marketing swayed her smoking decisions. “There won’t be any evidence that she was destined to become a life-long smoker, that this was preordained.”

Trial is expected to last about two weeks.

Editor's Note: Andrew Rainer is representing the plaintiff as part of his practice with Northeastern University School of Law's Public Health Advocacy Institute. An earlier version of this story did not make that clear.

Email Arlin Crisco at acrisco@cvn.com.

Related Information

Julie Lagadimas is represented by Northeastern University School of Law's Public Health Advocacy Institute's Andrew Rainer and Meredith Lever.

R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s  Kevin Boyce.

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Topics: Massachusetts, tobacco