Big Tobacco Pays Up

“The Insider’ may have flopped at the Oscars, but Big Tobacco is still big news. In a landmark decision yesterday, a San Francisco judge ordered the nation’s two largest tobacco companies — Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds — to pay $20 million in punitive damages to a dying ex-smoker who took up the habit after the surgeon general’s health warning began appearing on cigarette packs in 1969. Leslie Whiteley, 40, said she started smoking when she was 13, in 1972. She continued smoking Philip Morris’s Marlboros and Reynolds’s Camels until 1998, when doctors told her she had lung cancer. Last week, Whiteley and her husband, who in their suit had asked for $115 million in punitive damages (which they said represented 1% of the tobacco companies’ combined net worth), were awarded $1.7 million in compensatory damages after a finding that the companies deceived the public about the harmfulness of smoking.

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