Florida jury orders R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to pay $9.75 million to family of a woman who died from respiratory disease caused by smoking cigarettes

6 February 2022

By: Zahra Tayeb, Source: Business Insider

A Florida jury awarded the family of a woman $9.75 million after she died from respiratory disease caused by smoking cigarettes.

Courtroom View Network (CVN) reported on the news

Carolyn Long was a regular smoker for decades, before quitting in 2002. In the late 1990s, however, she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which ultimately led to her death in 2020 at age 80.

The lawyers representing Long’s husband, John, told Insider that Long had an extremely difficult time trying to quit smoking over the years. “Despite trying literally everything she just couldn’t quit,” said Shane Newlands of Florida-based law firm Newlands and Clark.

He added: “As we know now, nicotine rewires the brain in powerful ways when you start that young. The tobacco companies knew this long before the public did and engineered cigarettes to be as addictive as possible.” 

Long’s husband told CVN that her illness and subsequent death were caused by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s conspiracy to conceal the truth about the dangers of smoking. 

R.J. Reynolds did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

According to CVN, Reynolds’ false marketing kept Long hooked on cigarettes. Lawyers told the outlet that Long smoked about half a pack a day for decades, before switching to a different brand selling an “ultra light” variation to be healthier. 

In a statement to Insider, Newlands said the “light” cigarettes were marked as safer in the 70s and 80s. “We now know that was a lie,” he said. 

The switch led to Long smoking more than a pack of cigarettes a day, CVN reported. “That is the point of what the industry wanted. [They] don’t want people to quit,” lawyer Lee Clark, who is also representing Long’s husband,said. 

Elliot Pedrosa of American law firm Jones Day who represented R.J. Reynolds contended that Long smoked out of choice, not addiction. “Mrs. Long smoked when she wanted to, where she wanted to, and when she wanted to quit, she did that, too,” Pedrosa said. “Smoking didn’t control Mrs. Long. Mrs. Long controlled her smoking,” he added. 

But according to Newlands, the jury agreed Long was in fact addicted to cigarettes. “We’re grateful that the jury listened so carefully to all the evidence and then placed a very significant value on what was a very significant loss for that family,” Newlands said. 

According to CVN, jurors apportioned 60% of responsibility to Reynolds and 30% to Long. Philip Morris, a cigarette company, was apportioned 10% of the responsibility, although it was not a party at trial.

Earlier this month, Cracker Barrel was ordered to pay $9.4 million to a man who was accidentally served toxic chemicals. But due to Tennessee laws, he is unlikely to receive the full amount, per a local news outlet