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Tobacco Cos. Lose Calif. Lawsuit

March 21, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A jury has ordered the country’s two largest tobacco companies to pay $1.47 million to a former smoker dying of lung cancer, ruling the companies misrepresented the health dangers of cigarettes.

Following Monday’s decision on compensatory damages, the Superior Court jury was to begin hearing evidence today on possible punitive damages against the Philip Morris Cos. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc.

The award to Leslie Whiteley, 40, a mother of four, and her husband was the tobacco industry’s second straight loss before state juries in California.

The jury found the companies negligently designed cigarettes and knew about the hazards of smoking, then committed fraud by misleading people about how much cigarettes could harm a smoker’s health.

According to testimony, Whiteley began smoking in 1972 at age 13, seven years after federal law required surgeon general’s warnings on cigarette packs. She also smoked marijuana heavily for years, and tobacco lawyers claimed that was the primary cause of her lung cancer.

Lawyers for Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds argued Whiteley was responsible for her own behavior. They said she was warned about smoking’s danger, was aware of the hazards and could have stopped.

Whiteley’s lawyer, Madelyn Chaber, argued that internal industry documents proved the tobacco companies tried to cover up the health risks of smoking and to mislead the public about the hazards of cigarettes.

Chaber represented Patricia Henley, a former smoker with lung cancer who was awarded $50 million in punitive damages and $1.5 million in compensatory damages last year in a suit against Philip Morris. Judges later reduced the award. Philip Morris is appealing the verdict.

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