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Jury Says Cigarettes Should Have Carried Warning, But Awards No Damages

June 25, 1988

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A jury’s decision that cigarettes should have carried a warning label before 1966 should encourage other lung-cancer victims to sue manufacturers, despite the fact that no damages were awarded, an attorney said.

″This is very similar to the history of asbestos litigation where at the beginning cases were lost and now liability is clearly established,″ said Ben Shein, an attorney for the estate of John Ray Gunsalus.

A federal jury said Friday that cigarettes manufactured by American Tobacco Co. were defective prior to 1966 because they did not have a warning label. But it said the lack of a warning was not a ″substantial factor″ in Gunsalus’ death of lung cancer last year at age 55.

Gunsalus, a Pall Mall smoker who first lit up at age 11, worked at the Chester shipyards where asbestos was prevalent, and the case brought by his estate sought to tie the hazards of smoking to those of working around asbestos.

Dan Conforti, public information director for American Brands, the Stamford, Conn.-based parent company of American Tobacco, said the company was pleased with the verdict.

The case was decided less than two weeks after a jury in Newark, N.J., decided a tobacco company should pay $400,000 to the widower of a lifelong smoker. It was the first monetary award from a cigarette maker after about 300 attempts in courtrooms from coast to coast.

Shein said Friday’s ruling poses a ″serious threat to (tobacco companies) in the future.″ Attorneys were considering an appeal, he added. The estate had been seeking unspecified damages for pain and suffering.

″We intend to continue this area of litigation and believe this should encourage other injured parties who have brought similar actions against tobacco companies,″ he said.

According to testimony from Dr. Paul Epstein of Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia, Gunsalus died of cancer caused by smoking and asbestos exposure.

Epstein, a witness for the Gunsalus estate, said the interaction of asbestos and cigarette smoke creates a far greater risk of cancer than either substance does on its own.

But American Tobacco attorney Edward F. Mannino argued that Gunsalus’ health history, not smoking’s dangers, were the issue. He pointed to Gunsalus’ history of heavy drinking, multiple stab wounds and three heart attacks.

In closing remarks Thursday, Mannino said Gunsalus smoked because he chose to and described him as a ″strong-willed″ person who ignored six doctors’ warnings to quit smoking.

Thomas F. Johnson, an attorney for Gunsalus’ estate, responded by telling the jury the ″unspoken assumption″ of American Tobacco’s argument ″is what does it matter if we kill a bum?″

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