Tobacco Company Gets Burned in Teenage Smoking Case

Posted December 18, 2012 in Jury Awards Products Liability by

Teenage boy lighting a cigarette


Tobacco giant RJ Reynolds has been stung by a $1.3 million jury verdict for not warning a smoker during his teenage years that smoking is addictive and could cause cancer.

William Champagne was born in 1950 and began smoking Lucky Strikes when he was 12 years old. At that time, American Tobacco (which later became RJ Reynolds) was the maker of Lucky Strikes and had no warnings in its advertisements or on its cigarette packs about the risks of smoking.

Champagne became severely addicted throughout his teenage years and could not kick the habit even as an adult. He stopped smoking shortly before he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2003. A self-made man who owned several successful trucking companies, Champagne died the following year at the age of 53, leaving a wife and two children.

His family sued the tobacco company for not warning him about the risks of smoking during his adolescent years when smoking is more addictive. The only label on Lucky Strikes during his teenage years was a “caution” label added in 1966 when Champagne was 16 years old. The label, required by the federal government, said that “cigarettes may be hazardous to your health,” according to the family’s attorney Jerome Block.

RJ Reynolds argued that it did not have to put warning labels about the health risks and addictiveness on its packages because in the 1950s and 60s there were doubts about whether cigarettes caused lung cancer, and that health risks were already “common knowledge” in those days.

Attorney Jerome Block

The company also argued that the type of lung cancer Champagne developed was unrelated to smoking.

But a New York jury disagreed, awarding Champagne’s widow, Eileen Clinton, and children, Jennifer and Bill, $1.3 million in damages.

The jury also found that rival tobacco giant Philip Morris/Altria fraudulently marketed “Marlboro Lights” as being better for you than regular cigarettes. Champagne had switched to Marlboro Lights as an adult. Although the jury blamed the company for false advertising, it did not think it was a cause of his cancer, according to Block.

Both RJ Reynolds and Altria are expected to appeal the verdict.



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