Massachusetts Trial Begins Against RJR Over Longtime 'Newport' Smoker's Death

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Sep 22, 2023 2:17:18 PM


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Boston, MA— Attorneys last week debated what drove a Massachusetts woman’s smoking decisions across more than half a century, as trial opened against R.J. Reynolds over her cancer death. Jones v. R.J. Reynolds, 1684CV03277. 

Rita Jones started smoking as a teenager in 1964 and continued across more than 50 years, before her lung cancer death, at age 70, in 2018. Her family is suing R.J. Reynolds, the successor-in-interest to Lorillard, the original maker of the Newport-brand cigarettes Jones favored throughout her life. They claim Lorillard put dangerous, defective cigarettes on the market, negligently marketed those cigarettes, then conspired to hide the dangers of smoking from the public, addicting Jones to nicotine and causing her fatal cancer. 


During openings last week, the Jones family’s attorney, Bernheim Kelley Battista’s Walter Kelley highlighted evidence, including decades of tobacco industry documents, that he said showed Lorillard knew cigarettes were addictive and caused cancer but worked to conceal those dangers. And Kelley said Jones became so powerfully addicted to cigarettes that she failed in multiple quit attempts before her lung cancer diagnosis led her to quit for good. 

Kelley added evidence would show Jones’ own half-century of smoking began when she was given a free pack of Newports as a 16-year old by a Lorillard sales representative, part of a  campaign that Kelley said swept up underage teens like Jones. “The samples, I would submit to you, is the most egregious conduct, in terms of marketing, by Lorillard in this case,” Kelley said. 

But Reynolds contends Jones began smoking to emulate her family and friends and claims Jones’ own choices, despite her knowledge of smoking’s dangers, led to her cancer. 

During last week’s openings, Jones Day’s Jack Williams walked jurors through a timeline of Jones’ smoking history. He said evidence would show that Jones quit cigarettes at one point in the 1990s for several months, long enough for the withdrawal effects from nicotine to have passed. However, Williams said, Jones ultimately returned to smoking. 

“And so she decided, as a 40-year-old-plus woman, as an adult, she made an adult decision to become a smoker again,” Williams said. “Had she stayed quit, she medically, more likely than not, would have avoided developing lung cancer.”

Trial is expected to last through next week. 

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Topics: tobacco, Massachusetts, Jones v. R.J. Reynolds, et al.