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Smoking Suit Reaches Damages Stage

The tobacco industry cleverly suckered three young people into smoking, their lawyer charged during closing arguments Monday, in the compensatory-damages phase of a trial that could be the gravest threat yet to Big Tobacco.

The jury concluded last summer that the nation's five biggest cigarette makers conspired to make a deadly product.

This week, the jury is being asked award damages to cover the medical bills, pain and suffering for the three smokers, who represent an estimated 500,000 sick Florida smokers in the first class-action case against the tobacco industry ever to go to trial.

It's the next question that could be the killer for Big Tobacco: The jury will be asked to set a dollar figure to punish the tobacco industry.

Industry officials fear a ruinous $300 billion punitive damage verdict.

In a separate case in San Francisco on Monday, a jury ordered two of the top cigarette makers to pay $20 million in punitive damages to a dying smoker. The jury earlier awarded the woman $1.7 million in compensatory damages.

In the Florida case, the industry was expected to begin its closing arguments late Tuesday or Wednesday and take two days.

“We're abounding in fictions when we're dealing with the tobacco industry,” smokers' attorney Stanley Rosenblatt told the six-member jury Monday. “They were clever and they suckered all three of these people, and that's what they intended.”

The industry has offered evidence that bronchioalveolar cancer, a form of lung cancer that the jury decided is not linked to smoking, was the culprit in the illness of Mary Farnan, who smoked for 29 years, and in the death of Angie Della Vecchia, who smoked for 40.

It blamed wood dust as a possible cause of cancer in the third plaintiff, Frank Amodeo, an Orlando clock maker who smoked for 34 years.

Witnesses for the plaintiffs testified that their cancers were caused by smoking.

The attorneys, the companies and the smokers are barred by a gag order from discussing the case outside of court. A hearing on a news media lawsuit challenging the order originally set for Monday was rescheduled for late Tuesday in federal court.

The defendants are Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Louisville, Ky.-based Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Liggett Group Inc. and the industry's Council for Tobacco Research and Tobacco Institute.

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