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La. Hits Big Tobacco For $590M

The tobacco industry must pay $590.9 million for nicotine patches, telephone hot lines, advertising and other programs to help Louisiana smokers kick the habit, a jury ruled in a class-action lawsuit Friday.

Lawyers for plaintiffs had asked for $1 billion to cover a dozen components of a comprehensive statewide quit-smoking program, but they praised Friday's ruling, saying it would greatly help the health of hundreds of thousands of Louisiana smokers.

"For the first time ever in this country, a jury has awarded a comprehensive smoking cessation program, not dollar damages," lawyer Joseph Bruno said. "Instead the jury approved what is needed to help those addicted to smoking."

Tobacco industry lawyers said they would immediately appeal the jury's ruling.

In July, the same jury found that cigarette makers had deceived the public with an addictive product and schemed to market cigarettes to children. It rejected calls for medical monitoring for present and former smokers, but said the industry should provide free quit-smoking programs.

After about two months of testimony about what those programs should be, it deliberated for 11 hours over three days before returning with a ruling Friday.

None of the smokers in the class-action lawsuit can get individual damages, and both lead plaintiffs had stopped smoking since the suit was filed.

Gloria Scott and Deania (pronounced "Deena") M. Jackson didn't care that they personally won't benefit.

Scott, a home health aide, said she started in 1954, when she was six and was given free samples from stores, and was only able to quit when she was diagnosed with lung cancer four years ago.

"It's fantastic. It's fabulous. I'm so excited," she said. "I know that 6-year-olds will never be given cigarettes again, and people won't have to smoke until they can get lung cancer.

"They can get treatment. They can quit."

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

In 1998, tobacco companies agreed to a $206 billion settlement of a lawsuit brought by two dozen state attorneys general for smoking-related health care claims.

Phillip A. Wittmann, attorney for R.J. Reynolds, said he would argue in an appeal that the case should have been halted before Friday's ruling.

"This case was certified as a class action to answer one question: Whether cigarettes and nicotine are defective products," Wittmann said. When jurors found that they were not defective, the case should have stopped there, he said.

The $590 million will also go toward supplies of nicotine gum and grants for anti-smoking programs in church groups and other organizations. The plaintiffs had wanted the programs to last up to 25 years, but jurors set them at 10 years.

Industry lawyers had argued that two to three years, at up to $9 million a year, would give the state's smokers time to get counseling and try various quit-smoking aids.

Plaintiffs' lawyers argued that the cigarette addiction will take years to correct. They said the industry's proposals would not improve the current quit-smoking rate of about 2 percent annually in Louisiana.

The final portion of the case, without the jury, will determine the mechanics for any quit-smoking programs that are ordered. That portion cannot begin until the appeals of Friday's ruling are complete.

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