Tuesday, October 16, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando plaintiff testifies in case against tobacco companies

BROOKSVILLE — It was 1961.

John Rizzuto, 13 years old and living in Queens, N.Y., found a pack of cigarettes belonging to his parents. Unbeknownst to them, he opened it up, slipped one out and took off down the street by himself.

"That's where I did it," Rizzuto recalled. "I smoked it."

The next day — maybe two days later — he smoked another with his friends.

"I was able to feel like I belonged," he remembered. "It was just expected, I guess you could say."

The story that starts out like so many others also has a familiar ending: After decades of smoking, often one to two packs a day, Rizzuto developed severe emphysema. His lung capacity shrank to one-third of normal capacity. He needs oxygen at night. He carries an inhaler.

Rizzuto, now 66 years old and living in Spring Hill, filed suit against Philip Morris USA and Liggett Group in 2007, claiming they are partially to blame for his lung disease. Six years of legal wrangling followed. His trial began last week. On Wednesday, he took the stand for the first time.

In a soft, gravelly voice bearing traces of his New York upbringing, Rizzuto testified and was cross-examined all day about his decades of smoking, answering a barrage of questions about everything from his personal health and family history to his perception of smoking as a teenager.

Growing up in the late 1950s and early '60s, he saw people smoking all around him — his mother, father, brother, uncles, aunts, friends. It was rampant on TV and the silver screen.

"It was just the lifestyle," he said.

Over the years, Rizzuto tried to quit or cut down his smoking several times. Each time, he picked it back up.

He was finally successful in 2000, but it took a near disaster.

Rizzuto was lying in bed one night, unable to sleep. He was struggling to breathe. "I couldn't get the air in," he said.

His son eventually took him to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson.

He remembers trying to use the restroom.

"I took a couple of steps," he said. "I couldn't breathe."

He said it scared him — that he saw what the rest of his life might be like.

He hasn't smoked since.

Rizzuto is claiming a right to damages as a member of the so-called Engle class. In 1994, a class-action suit was certified in Miami that became known for its lead plaintiff, pediatrician Howard Engle.

An appeals court decided in 1996 that the class action could go forward, though only Florida smokers who came down with a cigarette-related disease before November of that year could be included. In 2000, the plaintiffs won $145 billion, later overturned on appeal. The Florida Supreme Court refused in 2006 to reinstate the verdict, but the court permitted members of the Engle class to file lawsuits individually.

Observers say Rizzuto's is the first case to go to trial in Hernando. The jury must decide if he was addicted and, if so, whether his chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD, was caused by that addiction.

In the cross-examination, William Geraghty, an attorney for Philip Morris, pointed out that Rizzuto smoked as a teenager, even though his father and brother had told him to stop. Geraghty also said Rizzuto smoked at school, even though it wasn't allowed. He displayed a copy of a surgeon general warning dating back to 1966 — one that Rizzuto recalled reading. He peppered Rizzuto with questions about how he was finally able to quit cold turkey and questioned him about a number of his health practices over the years.

"You never actually asked any of your doctors to help you quit smoking, did you?" Geraghty asked. "You told us earlier you never tried Nicorette gum; you never tried the nicotine patch. You never went to a stop-smoking clinic or class."

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Comments
She dedicated her life to kids. She lost it trying to save them.

She dedicated her life to kids. She lost it trying to save them.

ST. PETE BEACH — Those who knew her said Samar Aboukhdair did everything for kids, and not just her own.So when they heard how the 36-year-old died this weekend, it was no surprise that it was while trying to save her children.The kids survived, but ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Bridging the Hurricane Michael cell connection breakdown; she died trying to save her children; what’s ahead for Bucs with Mike Smith gone?

The Daystarter: Bridging the Hurricane Michael cell connection breakdown; she died trying to save her children; what’s ahead for Bucs with Mike Smith gone?

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• The heat is back. Expect temperatures in the 90s, partly cloudy skies with a slim 10 to 20 percent chance of rain, according to the National Weather Service. Temps could drop slightly...
Updated: 1 hour ago
To get to Ybor's spookiest bar, step through the secret bookcase

To get to Ybor's spookiest bar, step through the secret bookcase

The Spookeasy Lounge in Ybor City has a spooky, but upscale Victorian tea lounge vibe and a hidden entrance.
Published: 10/16/18
Vagabond spirit guides seamstress on the biker festival circuit

Vagabond spirit guides seamstress on the biker festival circuit

Eileen Ceder, aka "The Slipper Lady," is a snowbird traveling the motorcycle festival circuit. A moccasin maker who also sells fabric patches, she can sew them on right then and there.
Published: 10/16/18
Clearwater tweaks downtown incentive program

Clearwater tweaks downtown incentive program

CLEARWATER — On the heels of intensive meetings with downtown property owners and potential business tenants, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency has tweaked its incentive programs designed to attract businesses that would operate...
Published: 10/16/18
Tampa’s last Sears survived bankruptcy closings, but Westshore Plaza is dropping Sears anyway

Tampa’s last Sears survived bankruptcy closings, but Westshore Plaza is dropping Sears anyway

Sears’ long-foreshadowed bankruptcy filing Monday came with the blow that more than 140 of its remaining 700 locations would be closed in a bid to save the once robust and venerable chain of department stores. But some locations not even on th...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pinellas' beaches apparently escape beach erosion from Hurricane Michael

Pinellas' beaches apparently escape beach erosion from Hurricane Michael

Pinellas County’s 35 miles of beaches appear to have emerged largely unscathed by Hurricane Michael, according to a preliminary assessment by county officials and University of South Florida experts. "The impact does not seem to be too bad," P...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hurricane Michael: From atop bridges, those inside the destruction talk to the world

Hurricane Michael: From atop bridges, those inside the destruction talk to the world

PORT ST. JOE — Bridges span voids. Traditionally, the gaps are physical barriers, be it rivers, railroads or ravines.After Hurricane Michael, the bridges near Mexico Beach have become portals of sorts, the only place where communication is possible w...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays’ Rocco Baldelli interviews with Rangers

Rays’ Rocco Baldelli interviews with Rangers

Interest in Rays coach Rocco Baldelli as a manager continues to grow, as he interviewed for another opening on Monday, this time with the Texas Rangers.Baldelli, 37, has also interviewed with the Reds, and reportedly with the Twins. The Angels and Bl...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Buccaneers AfterMath: The kicker problem and how to solve it

Buccaneers AfterMath: The kicker problem and how to solve it

On “Separation Sunday” in the NFL, it was gut-check time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They didn’t pass, dropping their third straight game.In a 34-29 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta, the defense struggled to get off the field on thi...
Updated: 9 hours ago