Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Florida tobacco lawsuits may help kill the "enterprise of death"

I have next to zero sympathy for John Rizzuto.

Yes, it's a shame he's too sick to play ball with his grandkids or walk his dog.

But that sort of thing tends to happen when you spend four decades smoking high-tar cigarettes such as L&Ms and Marlboros.

Rizzuto — a retired U.S. postal worker from Spring Hill — started lighting up 53 years ago, which was three years after the U.S. surgeon general first stated that "excessive" smoking causes cancer.

Like 50 million other people in this country, he eventually kicked the habit. But then he sued the tobacco companies — and last week received a jury award of $12.5 million — claiming cigarettes are so addictive that quitting is all but impossible.

Yes, it's hard to imagine a less sympathetic party, until you look across the courtroom at the representatives of the tobacco industry.

"It's an enterprise of death. They kill people for money, bottom line," said Scott Schlesinger.

Schlesinger is a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who specializes in fighting tobacco companies. He would say that.

But juries all over Florida are realizing it's not far from the truth, shifting some of the legal blame from the weak wills of smokers such as Rizzuto to cigarette makers.

If this trend spreads across the country, which is starting to happen, Schlesinger said, it could help sink tobacco sales in the United States.

And that, it's clear, is exactly what the industry deserves.

It's happening here because of a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision that threw out a class-action suit that included Rizzuto and thousands of other smokers, but agreed with their claims that cigarettes are addictive, cause cancer and are defective and dangerous.

That means when Rizzuto returned to court, his lawyer could focus on showing how his client had been caught up in the scheme to pitch a lethal product.

Tobacco companies have known cigarettes were deadly since the late 1950s, and lied about it for decades, said Michael Cummings, a former public health official in New York who testified for Rizzuto and against Philip Morris USA and the Liggett Group; it's all in the companies' internal memos, which have been available publicly for several years.

The companies provided more legal ammunition with some of the most cynical marketing and manufacturing methods in American history.

In 1954, responding to the first studies that linked cigarettes to cancer, Liggett touted the new filters on L&Ms as "just what the doctor ordered."

With Marlboros, Philip Morris pioneered the process of adding a form of ammonia that reduced the harshness of smoke, allowing addicted customers to inhale more deeply and become hooked more securely.

It's not quite a slam dunk, but smokers in Florida have won about 70 percent of the 100 or so suits filed against tobacco companies since the Supreme Court's decision. More recently, smokers have prevailed in Massachusetts and New York.

There's a finite number of good candidates to file such suits. In Florida, it's the roughly 4,000 former plaintiffs from the class-action suit. Elsewhere, they must be old enough to have started smoking before the dangers of smoking were obvious.

Also, what's $12.5 million to an industry that clears billions annually? Not much, especially because it has a history of delaying payment until every appeal has been exhausted.

But the legal fees and jury awards, which now total more than $500 million, will keep adding up, Schlesinger said.

Their prices will be tacked on to cigarettes, which will mean fewer smokers, and less revenue, and less money for lobbyists and lawyers and, eventually, maybe, the death of the enterprise of death.

Comments
Lawmakers call for additional investigations into Tampa Bay’s two CareerSource boards

Lawmakers call for additional investigations into Tampa Bay’s two CareerSource boards

Federal and state lawmakers are calling on Congress and the Florida House of Representatives to investigate whether two regional workforce centers inflated the number of people they helped find jobs. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D–St. Petersburg, and sta...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Undersea quake causes fear of tsunami in Alaska; Kentucky teen kills 2 classmates in shooting; ex-gymnast tells Nassar: ‘You didn’t heal me. You only hurt me’; more in U.S. news

Undersea quake causes fear of tsunami in Alaska; Kentucky teen kills 2 classmates in shooting; ex-gymnast tells Nassar: ‘You didn’t heal me. You only hurt me’; more in U.S. news

AlaskaUndersea quake causes panicA powerful undersea earthquake sent Alaskans fumbling for suitcases and racing to evacuation centers in the middle of the night after a cellphone alert warned a tsunami could hit communities along the state’s southern...
Updated: 1 hour ago
MacDill crews shift from Islamic State battle to join winter fight against Taliban

MacDill crews shift from Islamic State battle to join winter fight against Taliban

Now that the fight against the largely defeated Islamic State is winding down, the U.S. Air Force is turning its efforts toward the Taliban and moving aircraft and crews to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.Crews and a KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refue...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

BRANDON — The 11-month-old girl who drowned in an apartment complex pond on Monday was identified as Deleah Morgan by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday.Deputies released no other details about the incident or the ongoing investigation....
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: A good first step in restoring the right to vote

Editorial: A good first step in restoring the right to vote

Allowing felons a meaningful chance to reclaim their right to vote and rejoin civic life is edging closer to reality in Florida. On Tuesday the state announced that a yearslong petition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot h...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Man, 60, arrested in fatal shooting of his neighbor in Holiday

HOLIDAY — A 60-year-old man fatally shot his neighbor on Tuesday while the younger man stood outside his own home, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said Qiu Feng Kek shot Edward Tudor, 37, outside 3519 Richboro Drive. He died a...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Avalanche causes evacuations in Italy; indictment says Madsen abused journalist Wall before killing her; more in world news

Avalanche causes evacuations in Italy; indictment says Madsen abused journalist Wall before killing her; more in world news

Italy150 evacuated after avalancheFour helicopters evacuated 150 people trapped in a four-star hotel and other remote structures Tuesday after an avalanche, authorities said, as heavy snow caused disruption across the Alps. The Langtauferer Hotel, lo...
Updated: 2 hours ago
ScarFace the Osprey scarfs up prized neckwear to make Coquina Key home

ScarFace the Osprey scarfs up prized neckwear to make Coquina Key home

ST. PETERSBURGSome 25 feet up in the air, towering over Coquina Key, sits an osprey surveying the park below.It is on the hunt for any bit of material so it can prepare a nest for future hatchlings. Whether it be sticks, hay, palm leaves, a trash bag...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Special counsel questions Sessions; Is Trump coming soon?

Special counsel questions Sessions; Is Trump coming soon?

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for hours in the special counsel’s Russia investigation, the Justice Department said Tuesday, as prosecutors moved closer to a possible interview with President Donald Trump about whether he ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Woman, 60, found guilty of filing false liens against Pinellas judge

Woman, 60, found guilty of filing false liens against Pinellas judge

LARGO — In his eight years as a circuit judge, Thomas Minkoff has handled family and civil cases, as well as 14,000 foreclosure hearings.He was in court once again on Tuesday, but not in his usual perch at the bench. This time, he was on the witness ...
Updated: 3 hours ago