A jury ordered the tobacco industry Friday to pay $590 million for nicotine patches, telephone hot lines, advertising and other programs to help people in Louisiana stop smoking.
Legal experts say the verdict marks the first time a jury has found that tobacco companies should pay for such programs. While the verdict is not as large as other recent tobacco awards, some experts say the ruling could be precedent-setting.
Tobacco lawyers said they would immediately appeal, and the case could drag on for years in the courts before any money is actually spent on the programs. The next and final phase of the trial will determine how the programs will run, but that portion cannot begin until appeals of Friday's ruling are complete.
Plaintiff lawyers expect a drawn-out battle, but they said the verdict represents an important victory for 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."
The verdict covers hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents who smoked before the mid-1990s, when the suit was filed. None of the smokers in the lawsuit can get individual damages.
Lawyers for the smokers in the class-action lawsuit had wanted $1 billion for smoking-cessation programs -- an amount tobacco lawyers deemed excessive. They said two to three years of programs, at up to $9 million a year, would give smokers time to get counseling and try various aids to quit smoking.
The lawsuit also had wanted the programs to last up to 25 years, but jurors set them at 10 years.
The verdict came in the second phase of a lengthy trial.
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 smoking-cessation programs.
The current phase was to determine how much the industry should spend on the programs and what those programs should be. The third phase -- to determine how the programs will work -- will be held without the jury.
The lawsuit is one of several filed against tobacco companies in recent years. In 1998, the industry agreed to pay 46 states, including Louisiana, $206 billion over 25 years to settle lawsuits for smoking-related health care claims. That settlement did not preclude individuals from suing tobacco companies.
The defendants are R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Philip Morris USA and Brown & Williamson.