Jurors Hear Closing Arguments Thursday
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A teen-ager’s terminal oral cancer was caused by snuff, ″right there between his cheek and his gum,″ a lawyer said Thursday in final arguments in a $147 million lawsuit the boy’s mother filed against U.S. Tobacco Co.
But U.S. Tobacco lawyer Alston Jennings countered that ″it is abundantly clear from the testimony in this case that Sean Marsee’s cancer of the tongue was not caused by snuff.″
Closing arguments ended Thursday morning and jurors began deliberations after instructions from U.S. District Judge David Russell. The jury deliberated about four hours, then recessed until Friday morning.
In an emotional plea to the jury, lawyer Dania Dechamps-Braly said that if U.S. Tobacco had not enticed Marsee to dip snuff before he was old enough to shave, the standout athlete would be in the Army today.
″Perhaps he would be running on an Army track team. It’s as simple as that,″ said Mrs. Braly, who with her husband, George Braly, represents Betty Ann Marsee of Ada.
Marsee, 19, died from tongue cancer two years ago in his mother’s home in the south-central Oklahoma community of Ada, said Mrs. Braly.
Marsee had used Copenhagen brand snuff for six years before 1983, when he discovered a white lesion on the right side of his tongue, where he had kept his tobacco, Mrs. Braly said.
That year, Marsee underwent three disfiguring operations to contain a spreading oral cancer. He died in February 1984.
Mrs. Braly asked the jury to award Mrs. Marsee almost $137 million - the equivalent of the company’s profits in 1983 - and more than $58,000 in medical and burial expenses, and $10 million for pain and suffering.
U.S. Tobacco knew of the health risks posed by snuff, Mrs. Braly argued, yet promoted its use by teens in advertisements starring athletes, including former Dallas Cowboys running back Walt Garrison, a vice president for the tobacco manufacturer.
″The writing on the wall of science was not invisible to U.S. Tobacco. They saw it, they read it and they deliberately chose to ignore it,″ she argued.
″U.S. Tobacco was wrong: willfully, morally, evilly wrong,″ in choosing profits over voluntarily placing a warning label on its snuff products, Mrs. Braly said.
The company has placed warning labels on its products in Sweden since the mid-1970s, and in 1987 will do so in the United States as mandated this year by Congress.
Jennings said the Swedish warning labels make no mention of cancer, and said there was no conclusive proof that using snuff causes oral cancer.
″It’s undisputed that everyone who uses snuff doesn’t get cancer. The overwhelming number of people don’t get cancer,″ Jennings said.
He said there are also people who get oral cancer but who have never used tobacco.
″All the literature said there is no known cause of tongue cancer in these young patients,″ Jennings said. ″Can you now see why the court will tell you ’Don’t let sympathy or emotion play any part in your verdict?‴
Dr. Carl Hook, an Ada physician who treated Marsee in the early stages of the disease, testified the teen-ager’s oral cancer was caused by snuff.
″Sean Marsee was treated by dozens of doctors in addition to Dr. Hook and not one of his doctors has come in here and testified that Sean Marsee’s tongue cancer was caused by snuff. Not a single one,″ said Jennings.
While ingredients in snuff may be linked to cancer, Jennings recalled testimony indicating that other ingredients in snuff may inhibit oral cancer.
″Peanut butter and mushrooms are not carcinogenic, but they have things in them that cause cancer,″ Jennings said.
The Bralys throughout the trial called witnesses who said snuff contained more nitrosamines - said to be the broadest carcinogen known to science - than any other consumer product.
Jennings called the talk of nitrosamines ″an out and out smokescreen,″ and disputed claims that U.S. Tobacco’s marketing strategy led to Marsee’s use of snuff.
″He started out using Redman tobacco, chewing tobacco, that’s not made by U.S. Tobacco; it’s not advertised by U.S. Tobacco, or anybody that I know of. Then he switched to Skoal (a U.S. Tobacco product). The reason was peer pressure from his Boy Scout troop. He didn’t say he switched because of Walt Garrison,″ argued Jennings.