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Jury begins deliberating La. tobacco trial

Attorneys for Louisiana smokers want Big Tobacco to roll out $1 billion for a quit-smoking program — an expense that the industry says is unjustified and unneeded.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A jury began deliberating Wednesday how much Big Tobacco should pay for a quit-smoking program for Louisiana smokers, whose attorneys want the industry to fork over $1 billion.

In July, the same state district court jury found that cigarette makers had deceived the public with an addictive product and schemed to market cigarettes to children.

The jury rejected calls for medical monitoring for present and former smokers in the state, but said the industry should have to provide free quit-smoking programs, setting up the trial’s current phase that involved about two months of testimony. The industry argued that the $1 billion figure was excessive.

The plaintiffs include any Louisiana resident who smoked before the mid-1990s when the suit was filed.

They want a 25-year plan, costing about $45 million a year, that would pay for stop-smoking patches and gum, telephone hot lines, intensive counseling, advertising for the program, grants to churches and community groups to publicize the program, and training programs for quit-smoking counselors. The plan would be administered by the court through a trust fund set up by the tobacco industry.

Russ Herman, one of several attorneys for the plaintiffs, said the industry had created a nationwide addiction problem with “50 years of deceit” that would “require years to correct.”

The tobacco industry has said that a much-more modest program, lasting two to three years, would give smokers adequate time to obtain counseling and try various quit-smoking aids.

But the plaintiffs contend that such a program, costing up to $9 million a year, would not increase the current quit-smoking rate of about 2 percent annually in Louisiana.

“They don’t want to pay for it,” said plaintiff attorney Joseph Bruno. “Why? Because they know there will be higher cessation rates.”

Ronald Shoales, an attorney for Phillip Morris USA, called the program “unreasonable and unnecessary.” Shoales said quit-smoking aids and counseling are already available for those who want to stop.

He compared the proposal to defense contractors “who sell thousand-dollar hammers to the Army” and called it a “bureaucracy that doesn’t help people quit smoking, but will make those in the bureaucracy rich.”

No smoker or former smoker will receive individual damages. Louisiana law prohibits punitive damages.

Judge Richard Ganucheau planned to turn the case over to the jury Wednesday. A third phase of the trial, without the jury, will be used to determine the mechanics for any quit-smoking programs that are ordered.

The defendants are R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Philip Morris USA and Brown & Williamson.