Trial Begins Against RJR Over Ex-Smoker's Respiratory Disease Death

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Jan 21, 2022 3:52:14 PM


Stock image. 

Tampa, FL— Jurors heard opposing narratives over what drove a Florida woman’s smoking decisions across decades, as trial opened against R.J. Reynolds last Friday over her respiratory disease-related death. Long v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-000499.

Carolyn Long became a regular smoker as a teenager in the 1950s. She continued smoking, including Reynolds’ Winston and Salem brands, before quitting in 2002. She ultimately died from respiratory disease in 2020, at age 80.

Long's husband, John, claims Reynolds is responsible for his wife's death by hiding the addictiveness and health risks of smoking through much of the latter half of the 20th century.   

During Friday’s openings, Newlands & Clark’s Lee Clark, representing John Long, walked jurors through evidence he said showed Reynolds participated in a tobacco industry-wide conspiracy to conceal the dangers of smoking, and falsely marketed “light” and “ultra light” brand variations as safer than other cigarettes. 

Clark said those initiatives hooked Long to cigarettes and drove her smoking decisions. Long, Clark said, smoked about a half-pack of cigarettes a day for  decades, before switching to Winston Ultra Lights in an effort to be healthier. After that switch, Clark said, Long soon began smoking more than a pack of cigarettes a day, compensating for the lower nicotine levels in those cigarettes.  

“That is the point of what the industry wanted. [They] don’t want people to quit. [They] want them just to buy the next brand extension,” Clark said “They’re not any safer.”

The lawsuit is one of thousands of so-called Engle-progeny cases, claims spun from a 1990s class action by Florida smokers against the nation’s tobacco companies. After a trial court verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class, ruling individual plaintiffs could recover only if they proved the smoker at the heart of each case was addicted to cigarettes that caused a disease. 

But Reynolds contends Long knew smoking was dangerous and chose to smoke because she enjoyed cigarettes. During Friday’s openings, Jones Day’s Eliot Pedrosa told jurors Long was warned about smoking’s risks from a variety of sources, including doctors, her family, and the news. 

And Pedrosa highlighted evidence that he said showed Long controlled when and how she smoked throughout her life, smoking generally smoking 10 cigarettes or less a day until she was 40, and refraining to smoke around her children, grandchildren, and in many indoor areas.  

“She controlled her smoking,” Pedrosa said. “And then when she really wanted to quit in 2002, she controlled that decision, too.”

Trial is expected to last through next week. 

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Topics: tobacco, Engle Progeny, Florida, Long v. R.J. Reynolds