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Tobacco chief says his company is changing

Szymanczyk
Szymanczyk  

June 15, 2000
Web posted at: 4:39 p.m. EDT (2039 GMT)

MIAMI (CNN) -- The chief executive of the world's largest tobacco company testified Wednesday that his company is doing the best that it can to reduce any harm caused by cigarettes.

Michael Szymanczyk was cross-examined for a second day Wednesday in the punitive damage phase of the Florida class-action lawsuit.

He told the six-member jury that he did not think Philip Morris deserves further punishment because the company has changed since he took control in 1997.

Szymanczyk faced some tough questions from Stanley Rosenblatt, the attorney representing up to half a million sick Florida smokers.

At one point Tuesday, Rosenblatt declared that Szymanczyk acted as if he could "waltz in here" and escape punishment "because you're a good guy today." He compared that logic to a man who robs a house, then declares himself a different man and expects leniency from the courts.

"I believe the things we're doing today and the way we're running the business today are correct," Szymanczyk replied.

If the tobacco industry loses, the companies could face billions of dollars in damages. Szymanczyk testified that could ruin his company.

He said Philip Morris could raise, at most, $6.4 billion dollars, but that would require the company to sell all of its assets.

The jury has already awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages, based on its finding that the five tobacco companies misled the public and made a defective product that causes cancer and other diseases. Szymanczyk said Philip Morris still has more than 1,000 other lawsuits pending.

He said the damages could force the company to raise cigarette prices to a point that they will no longer be competitive.

Szymanczyk tried to tell the jury that the $245 billion it is paying over the next 25 years to repay states for the medical costs of smoking was punishment enough, but the judge said that could not be considered because the industry agreed to the settlement.

That led Philip Morris attorney Dan Webb to call for a mistrial. The motion was denied.

Szymanczyk testified that Philip Morris is using television advertisements and its Internet site to educate consumers about the dangers of smoking. He also said the company agrees that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases.

When asked if he thought smoking was addictive, Szymanczyk said that "most people" who want to kick the habit succeed.

Szymanczyk is the first of five tobacco industry executives expected to take the stand in the punitive damage phase of the trial. The case is expected to last at least another month.

CNN Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report



RELATED STORIES:
Philip Morris chief testifies in Florida tobacco trial
June 12, 2000
Smokers have greatly elevated risk for severe gum disease, study finds
May 30, 2000
Miami jury awards nearly $13 million in tobacco lawsuit
April 7, 2000

RELATED SITES:
American Academy of Periodontology
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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