Secondhand-smoke Cases To Charge Industry Lies - The Washington Times - July 15, 1997

By: Samuel Goldreich
The Washington Times
July 15, 1997

As the first class-action lawsuit against the nation's largest tobacco companies began in Miami yesterday in a case involving nonsmoking flight attendants, lawyers are lining up other clients they say have also suffered from secondhand smoke.

Each of the cases relies on the argument that the tobacco companies lied for decades about the medical risks associated with exposure to other people's cigarette smoke.

'The strategy was to knock, to criticize, to plant doubt in the minds of the American people,' said Stanley Rosenblatt, a lawyer for 60,000 nonsmoking airline flight attendants suing the tobacco companies for $5 billion.

While a jury will decide that case, lawyers representing other nonsmokers are rushing forward with lawsuits that could be banned under a proposed deal the tobacco companies negotiated last month with 40 state attorneys general to settle nationwide health claims against the industry.

The agreement, which must win approval from Congress and President Clinton, would limit damages and bar plaintiffs from joining in class-action suits. The settlement could scuttle secondhand-smoke lawsuits like the one filed on behalf of Burl Butler, a nonsmoking barber in Mississippi who died of lung cancer after allowing customers to smoke in his shop for decades.

'The most immediate impact on the case is that it would prohibit Mrs. Butler from seeking punitive damages, said her attorney, Shane Langston. 'If the settlement passes before her trial date, it could be sent to federal court, which would mean further delays.'

The Butler case was scheduled to go to trial next month, but it was rescheduled to June 1998 last month when a new judge took over the case. Lee Daley also is watching the flight attendants' case to see whether the tobacco industry will be forced to pay more than the $368.5 billion over 25 years that it agreed to pay under the nationwide settlement.

'I think they should [throw out] that $368 billion,' she said. 'My lung transplant alone cost more than $800,000.'

Although Mrs. Daley smoked for more than 40 years, she filed suit in Chicago last week on behalf of her dead husband, whom she claims developed lung cancer as a result of her smoking. She is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit designed to challenge efforts to limit damages and the right to sue under the nationwide settlement.

The settlement calls for a ban on workplace smoking but makes no mention of tobacco manufacturers' liability for secondhand-smoke claims.

'The industry has taken a strong stand on secondhand smoke but I think they're going to have to change their position because juries will be more sympathetic to people who haven't smoked,' said Kenneth Moll, Mrs. Daley's attorney.

The Daley case also involves smokers as part of a lawsuit intended to represent 3 million Illinois residents suffering from smoking-related illnesses.

In Miami, meanwhile, the tobacco industry continued its rejection of claims that secondhand smoke causes illness.

'We've heard that same refrain before . . . in every smoker's trial,' said Dan Donohue, senior vice president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

There is no evidence that the flight attendants had any higher rate of tobacco-related illnesses than the general population, he said.

have sought to undermine anti-smoking data for decades, citing a 1954 advertisement that sought to rebut reports that experiments on mice indicated a link between cigarette tar and cancer.

* This story is based in part on wire service reports.