A jury awarded $35 million to a man who argued his wife was unaware of the dangers of smoking. The woman died of cancer prior to FDA requirements forcing tobacco companies to be more transparent regarding the risks of tobacco use.
A Florida jury is holding two tobacco companies 94% responsible for the death of a woman who smoked for 41 years before succumbing to cancer. On December 22, 2015, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Phillip Morris USA Inc., were ordered to pay a total of $35 million to the deceased woman’s husband – $12.5 million apiece in punitive damages, as well as $10 million in compensatory damages.
Legal counsel argued that the companies had deceived the man’s wife by failing to disclose the risks associated with tobacco use. She passed away in 1996, well prior to the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA control over aspects of tobacco sales within the United States. Among other requirements, the FDA now has the authority to require companies to disclose ingredients and nicotine content in their products, to modify product ingredients, and to display warning notices on at least 50% of the front and back of product packaging.
The lawsuit argues that the woman was never made aware of the risks of tobacco use because the companies withheld this information from her until the 2009 FDA requirements forced them to be more transparent. By that time, the woman was dead. Legal counsel noted, “there is no evidence whatsoever that the tobacco companies have done anything to mitigate what they’ve done in the past. You will see that they are the same companies.” Conversely, R.J. Reynolds’ attorney advised the jury that the company has made many changes over the years, and that they no longer attempt to conceal the dangers of tobacco use.
The woman at the center of the lawsuit had reportedly smoked two packs per day since the age of 14 and continued to use tobacco after her cancer diagnosis. “The attorney estimated that over the 41 years she smoked, the woman took about 6 million cigarette puffs.” The jury found the woman to be 6% responsible for her own death.