Local Smokers React To National Tobacco Verdict

The tobacco industry has been under the federal microscope lately. On Friday, it received another hit--a New York jury awarded 20-million dollars in punitive damages to the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer, marking the first time in New York state history that a jury awarded damages against a tobacco company.

A New York jury found tobacco company Brown & Williamson liable for the death of Harry Frankson, a man who smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes cigarettes for decades.

We talked to a few smokers in Gulfport, and many of them don't see the verdict as the beginning demise of the tobacco industry, but they do see tobacco addiction as a choice that should not be rewarded.

"As far as getting a 20-million settlement, that's wrong. That is so wrong. They should have helped maybe to bury the man . But I don't think that woman deserved 20-million dollars because nobody forced her husband to smoke those cigarettes either," said Tobacco and Beer Discount Store assistant manager Jo-Ellen Hale.

"I don't think he deserves anything. I smoke, I choose to smoke. It's my problem. If I was to get lung cancer and die, that's it," said smoker Eugene Strader.

"Can I sue the alcohol companies? I mean I drank for a lot of years. If it's a choice and it's allowed by the government there should be no damages award," said smoker Jonathan Shearer.

Even from tough warning labels on tobacco products to bans in public places throughout the nation, the light of the tobacco industry will not be snuffed out any time soon.

But a representative of the American Cancer Society believes Friday's verdict could possibly help to save lives.

"Certainly it's not gonna put the tobacco companies out of business. As long as people smoke and as long as they continue to market to youth, we're going to have new smokers, but I think it does bring awareness to what tobacco can do. Thirty percent of all cancer deaths are tobacco-related, and in Mississippi alone, two thousand people will die from lung cancer this year," said American Cancer Society associate communications and marketing director Alison Jones.

The hefty award was meant to send a message to corporate America.

Only time will tell whether the message was received or not.

Brown & Williamson is the nation's third-largest cigarette manufacturer and marketer, producing the Lucky Strike, Kool and Pall Mall brands.