Dying smoker seeks $10 billion from Philip Morris

The Associated Press
Saturday May 19, 2001

LOS ANGELES — The lawyer for a dying smoker suing tobacco giant Philip Morris Inc. suggested Friday that a jury award $10 billion in punitive damages. 

The company’s actions met the legal standards for punitive damages, attorney Michael Piuze told the Superior Court jury in closing arguments. 

Richard Boeken, 56, who has lung cancer that has spread elsewhere, claims fraud, conspiracy and negligence.  

He claims that Marlboro, the popular Philip Morris cigarette brand, was his favorite since he began smoking at age 13. 

Piuze said Boeken should get $270,000 for medical bills, $2.1 million for lost earnings and future earnings and $10 million for pain, suffering and general damages. 

He said that $100 million was “not nearly enough” for punitive damages and then wrote $10 billion over the  

word “Justice” on a large pad displayed on an easel. 

“Richard Boeken’s sin was that he believed Philip Morris,” Piuze said. 

Boeken kicked both heroin and alcohol, but not cigarettes because he heeded a 50-year tobacco industry campaign to cast doubt on rising health concerns, he said. 

After decades of smoking two packs or more a day, he was diagnosed in 1999 with lung cancer, which had spread incurably to his lymph nodes, lower back and brain. 

Boeken was “hooked” on cigarettes and tried several times to quit because of recurring bronchitis and his desire to run, but he never believed health warnings that smoking could cause serious illness, Piuze said. 

If the cigarette industry had “told America in 1955 or 1954 ... this stuff will kill you,” Boeken and “untold millions of other people would never have been smoking,” he claimed. 

Piuze argued that cigarettes are legally a defective product because they are unsafe. 

“The consumer was plunking down his or her good money and buying poison,” he said. He noted that Philip Morris did not dispute that its product caused Boeken’s cancer. 

Piuze contended the tobacco industry could have created a safe cigarette and prevented “millions of slow, agonizing, crummy deaths that cost a lot of money” if they had spent nearly 50 years on research instead of a “propaganda” campaign to cast doubt on health concerns. 

Piuze told jurors that Philip Morris was guilty of a “failure to warn” consumers of their products’ danger before the government issued warning labels in the 1960s. The company also had a “failure to instruct” how to use their lower tar products, he said. 

Showing jurors packages of regular Marlboros, Marlboro Lights and Marlboro Ultralights, he said government and industry knew that all three delivered the same amount of toxins, because consumers using the lower tar products took more puffs and breathed more deeply. 

“It’s only a secret from the people who used it” and mistakenly thought they were getting less tar, Piuze said. 

The company should have told consumers to not puff so deeply and so often, Piuze said. 

Boeken was “reassured,” by the tobacco industry’s stance, his attorney argued. But even if Boeken was partically responsible for his illness by continuing to smoke, “Philip Morris doesn’t walk just because someone was gullible enough to believe,” he said.