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Tobacco attorneys: Cigarette warning labels obvious to smokers

A class action lawsuit in Florida could cost tobacco companies billions

Tobacco under attack
Kicking the habit

Defense begins closing arguments in landmark civil case

June 23, 1999
Web posted at: 2:07 p.m. EDT (1807 GMT)

MIAMI (CNN) -- Tobacco attorneys on Wednesday urged jurors to use their common sense when deciding whether tobacco companies should be held liable for a smoker's decision to use cigarettes.

Defense attorneys representing six tobacco companies began their closing arguments in the trial of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of up to 500,000 Florida smokers.

The case is the first non-governmental class action suit against tobacco companies to go to trial in the United States.

"Warnings. Warnings. Warnings," said tobacco attorney Robert Heim, who argued that warnings have been required by Congress on cigarettes and advertising for 33 years.

"If someone started smoking a pack a day in 1966 and smoked a pack a day continuously since, they would have had an opportunity to see those warnings on packs 200,000 times," Heim added.

Heim told jurors that people smoke because they want to, not because they have to.

"Smoking is a behavior. People smoke because they like the way it tastes, the way it feels. The ritual of smoking. Whether you call it a habit, a dependency, smokers quit when they want to quit," said Heim.

The lawsuit was filed in 1994, and the civil trial began in October 1998.

The plaintiffs, who claim cigarettes made them sick, are seeking unspecified damages. Their attorney, Stanley Rosenblatt, however, has estimated the suit, if successful, could bring $200 billion.

Rosenblatt began his closing argument Monday.

Each side has 13 hours to summarize the eight-month case.

Rosenblatt is expected to use most, if not all, of his three remaining hours for his rebuttal.

Jury deliberations could begin as early as Friday.

A jury of two women and four men will decide the outcome in two stages. There are six alternates.

If tobacco companies are found liable, jurors will be asked to decide compensatory and punitive damages during a penalty phase.

Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report

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March 30, 1999
Justice Department wants $20 million to sue tobacco industry
February 1, 1999
States vow to deny Clinton administration a share in tobacco settlements
January 21, 1999

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company
Brown and Williamson
The Tobacco Trials HomePage
WHO/OMS: World Health Organization
U.S. Department of Justice
The Tobacco Industry Table of Cases
CDC's TIPS: Tobacco Information and Prevention Source
Foundation for a Smoke-Free Environment
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