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  Court Upholds Calif. Tobacco Verdict

By David Kravets
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, Nov. 8, 2001; 12:01 a.m. EST

SAN FRANCISCO –– A state appeals court late Wednesday upheld a $26.5 million jury award to a Los Angeles woman with lung cancer and a chronic history of smoking.

It was California's first jury award of damages for a smoking-related illness.

Philip Morris Co. challenged the award, arguing that a 1998 state law allowing smokers to sue does not apply retroactively

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 1st District Court of Appeal disagreed, and added that the company should be punished for what it termed "reprehensible" conduct.

"The record reflects that defendant touted to children what it knew to be an addictive and cumulatively toxic product while doing everything it could to prevent addicts and prospective addicts from appreciating the true nature and effects of that product," the court wrote.

Philip Morris representatives did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

But Wednesday's decision is not final as the California Supreme Court is weighing the tobacco giant's retroactivity argument in several different smoker's cases.

Patricia Henley's lawsuit was the first tried in California since the repeal of a 1988 law that protected tobacco companies against suits by individual smokers. She said Wednesday's ruling "means that I was able to produce the truth and that people actually listened."

Henley, 55, started smoking Marlboros at age 15 and smoked three packs a day until 1997, when she quit after suffering coughing fits and other health problems. She was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.

Noting that there were no warnings on cigarette packages when she started smoking, Henley accused Philip Morris of hooking her on cigarettes while concealing their harmful and addictive nature.

Philip Morris said it was not responsible for Henley's decision to smoke and never claimed cigarettes were safe.

A San Francisco jury awarded her $51.5 million in 1999. Judge John Munter reduced the verdict to $26.5 million, saying the new figure was enough to punish Philip Morris for misleading the public about the dangers of smoking and for marketing cigarettes to teen-agers.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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