Los Lunas, NM — A New Mexico state court jury last week cleared Philip Morris and a regional grocery chain of responsibility for the cancer death of a 59-year-old woman who had smoked the tobacco giant’s cigarettes for much of her life. Johnson v. Philip Morris and Allsup’s Convenience Stores, Inc., D-1314-CV-2019-00897.
Jurors deliberated roughly five hours last Friday before finding in favor of Philip Morris and Allsup’s Convenience Stores, Inc., on a range of claims stemming from the 2018 lung cancer death of Audree Johnson.
Johnson, who had her first cigarette as a child, was a pack-a-day smoker for decades, favoring Philip Morris’ "Marlboro"-branded varieties. She was diagnosed with cancer in December 2018, approximately 6 months after quitting cigarettes, and ultimately died in 2020.
Johnson’s family claims that Philip Morris knowingly manufactured defective, dangerous cigarettes, which Allsup’s sold to Johnson, and that the tobacco company conspired with other manufacturers to conceal the dangers of smoking throughout much of the latter half of the 20th century.
The eight-day trial turned in large part on whether Philip Morris’ cigarettes were considered defective based on their design. During last Friday’s closings, Bruster PLLC’s Wes Holmes walked jurors through evidence he said showed Philip Morris engineered cigarettes to be as addictive as possible, all while knowing the link between cigarettes and diseases such as cancer.
“They knew that they were selling nicotine,” Holmes said. “They knew that the reason people continued to smoke is because of nicotine. They knew that that was their product.”
But in her closing, Rodman & Rodman's Kat Gallagher, representing Philip Morris, contended that evidence showed cigarettes are inherently dangerous and that alternative designs, such as non-inhalable, denicotinized, or heat-not-burn options, would be impractical and roundly rejected by the public.
“Whether you smoked a Philip Morris cigarette, or you grew tobacco in your backyard and you rolled it up and smoked it, both have the potential to be addictive, and both have the potential to cause serious disease,” Gallagher said. “Cigarettes are an unavoidably unsafe product.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not a subscriber?