Dr. Ronald Gup, a pulmonologist who diagnosed Virginia Varner with cancer and COPD, under cross-exam.
Fort Lauderdale, FL — A pulmonologist who treated a woman who smoked up to two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years testified he would consider such a smoker, “by definition,” addicted to nicotine, as trial over the woman's fatal cancer continued against the nation’s largest cigarette manufacturers. Varner v. R.J. Reynolds.
Dr. Ronald Gup, one of the physicians who treated Virginia Varner before her 1995 cancer death, told jurors Monday a two-pack-a-day smoking habit was “a lot of work, and it’s a lot of cigarettes to go through. There’s a drive, there has to be a drive to continue smoking.”
Varner, who smoked cigarettes made by R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris until shortly before her death, was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and inoperable lung cancer. Her husband, Joseph Varner, is suing the tobacco companies, hoping to prove his wife suffered from nicotine addiction that caused her illness.
The case stems from Engle v. Liggett Group, a 1994 class action lawsuit involving Florida smokers and the nation’s tobacco companies. The jury in that case found that the tobacco companies knowingly produced dangerous, addictive cigarettes and hid those dangers from the public. The Florida Supreme Court decertified the class on appeal, but its decision allows individual plaintiffs to rely on the jury’s conclusions in the original trial if they can prove the smokers at the center of their cases suffered from nicotine addiction that caused a smoking-related disease.
Gup, who testified from his handwritten notes and other medical records concerning the diagnosis and progression of Varner’s illness, told jurors Varner continued smoking even after seeing tell-tale signs of severe lung problems. “Even after she coughed up blood, she continued to smoke,” Gup said. “Sometimes patients will quit smoking, throw [their cigarettes] out, flush them down the toilet, that sort of thing, once they realize ‘Oh, my God, I may have something bad, so I’m going to get rid of these.’
“But she continued to smoke.”
On cross-exam, Gup said it was likely he counseled Varner how important it was to quit smoking, as he did with all his patients who were smokers and suffering from similar ailments. He acknowledged he had written “tobacco addiction” on probably thousands of medical charts in his 38 years as a physician.
When Gup was asked whether Varner's symptoms led him to suspect she had COPD and possibly lung cancer, Gup said, “Yes, and the cause is her smoking.”
Trial in the case is expected to last through the end of the week.
Schlesinger Law Offices, P.A.’s Scott Schlesinger, Jonathan Gdanski, Steven Hammer, and Brittany Chambers represent Joseph Varner.
King & Spalding’s Jason Keehfus and Rebecca Ojeda represent R.J. Reynolds.