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Groundbreaking Verdict in Cigarette Death Trial Against Tobacco Company

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Special to the NNPA from TheDefendersOnline.com –

In a groundbreaking judgment, a Massachusetts jury recently found the Lorillard tobacco company responsible for inducing a Boston woman to smoke as a child and ordered it to pay her family a total of $152 million.

The jury levied compensatory damages against the tobacco giant of $71 million and punitive damages of $81 million.

The woman, Marie Evans, started smoking cigarettes at 13, and despite trying to quit many times, became a lifelong smoker. She died of lung cancer at age 54 in 2002.

During the trial Lorillard’s attorney claimed that Ms. Evans’ numerous futile attempts to stop smoking as an adult were evidence that the company was not responsible for her admitted addiction to cigarettes. A Lorillard spokesman said they would appeal the verdict and attorneys familiar with such litigation said the case will likely be tied up in the courts for years.

Experts told the Boston Globe that the case was the first to attempt to hold Lorillard responsible for its practice of heavily marketing its Newport brand of menthol cigarettes in predominantly Black communities in the 1950s and 1960s.

Menthol cigarettes have long been the overwhelming cigarette of choice among African Americans who smoke, and studies have shown that the large majority of Black smokers, like smokers in general, start smoking in their teen years or even earlier.

Ms. Evans, whose son Willie Evans, pressed the case on her behalf after her death, stated in testimony videotaped shortly before she died that when she was a child living with her family in a public housing project in Boston’s predominantly Black Roxbury neighborhood, Lorillard company workers would come and hand out cigarettes to children as if they were candy. Lorillard denied that it used such tactics.

But Legacy, a nonprofit public health organization dedicated to smoking prevention efforts, called the Evans jury verdict “a sad reminder of the tobacco industry’s long history of marketing their products to our nation’s kids, luring them into a deadly addiction.”

A statement from the organization added that the verdict underscores the need for the Federal Drug Administration to ban menthol flavoring from cigarettes – a matter currently under its consideration – as a means of reducing youth smoking rates and tobacco-related health issues.

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