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Smoker sues cigarette maker

Published Oct. 13, 2005

A man who says he's addicted to Marlboro cigarettes has filed a first of its kind lawsuit in hopes of getting a tobacco company to pay for his quit-smoking classes. Daniel Walter of Altamonte Springs hasn't hired an attorney and asks only $85 to help him get off cigarettes. Meanwhile, Phillip Morris Inc., has hired a prominent law firm employing dozens of attorneys in Tampa, Orlando, Pensacola, Tallahassee and West Palm Beach to defend what a spokesman called a matter of principle.

Walter, 33, a writer, said in a Seminole County small claims court suit that Phillip Morris should help him stop smoking Marlboro cigarettes because its advertising helped him start.

"They know it is an addictive carcinogen," he said. "I thought it was only right they should pay."

Phillip Morris officials say its cigarettes aren't addictive, company attorney Walter Cofer said. Millions have quit smoking on their own, he said.

"When allegations are inappropriate and untrue, we are more interested in defending the principle," Cofer said. "It is just our position to defend lawsuits that attack our products."

Phillip Morris hired the Orlando law firm of Carlton, Fields, Ward, Emmanuel, Smith & Cutler, which counts among its clients Anheuser Busch Inc., Exxon Corp. and General Electric Credit Corp.

Richard Daynard, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston and chairman of the Tobacco Products Liability Project, said the company may fear that Walter's suit could open the door for more such claims.

"They don't let any of this stuff get by them," Daynard said.

He said Walter's suit is a first, although others have sued tobacco companies after they or family members became ill after smoking. The Tobacco Products Liability Project encourages such suits.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide a landmark case next year in which the family of a New Jersey woman blamed three cigarette companies for her lung cancer and her death in 1984.

Officials at the Tobacco Institute, a Washington trade association for tobacco companies, said Walter was engaged in "consumer ambulance chasing."

"There are self-appointed victims who look for another reason for their behavior besides their own free will," spokesman Thomas Lauria said.

Walter said he started smoking at 18, partly lured by the rugged individualism of the "Marlboro man" in cigarette ads.

He said he tried to quit after his father, a smoker, died of heart disease two years ago.

Walter said he wasn't able to quit cold turkey and wants to take an $85 stop-smoking course at Orlando's Florida Hospital. He hasn't taken the course and continues smoking.

"I think they ought to be held responsible," said Walter, who will bring his own case before a judge later in June. "Just because they have all the money and resources and hotshot lawyers does not mean they will necessarily prevail. I think sometimes common sense wins out."