A Florida jury heard that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was responsible for an air conditioning maintainer’s death from lung cancer at age 48 since the company helped perpetrate a decadeslong conspiracy to cast doubt on the dangers of smoking.
The jury in Florida’s Polk County heard that Ken Ryals, who was born in 1944, started smoking by age 15, at a time when Reynolds and other cigarette companies were beginning what would become a multidecade campaign to conceal the fact smoking was deadly and addictive, according to a lawyer for Ryals’ daughter, plaintiff Becky Leidinger.
That campaign was successful, and its effects continue to the present day, said Leidinger’s attorney, Gary Paige of Gordon & Partners.
When Ryals was growing up, smoking “was glamorous, it was cool, it was fun, it was safe,” Paige said. “Fifty to 60% of men in the 1940s and ’50s — think about how many men smoke now — 50 to 60% of men smoked back then. Fifty to 60% of medical doctors smoked back then.”
Paige said the broad societal acceptance of cigarettes continued for decades longer than it had to because of what started at an infamous Plaza Hotel meeting in 1953. There, the heads of all the major tobacco companies hatched a plot to deny then-new and alarming research linking cigarettes to health dangers.
Even half of all television shows in the 1940s and 1950s had cigarette makers as sponsors, the lawyer said.
The campaign to muddy the waters continued over the years, Paige said, with the creation of groups such as the Tobacco Industry Research Council, later known as the Center for Tobacco Research, which he said paid doctors to conduct research downplaying or wholly disputing the harm cigarettes caused.
As late as 1994, a slew of tobacco executives famously lined up in front of Congress and said they did not believe cigarettes were addictive.
All of that is why, “from 1953 to the present, about 30 million Americans have died from smoking,” Paige said.
Ryals, despite wanting to quit, could not because nicotine is so addictive.
But the defense said Ryals’ smoking had nothing to do with Reynolds.
The defense argued Ryals received numerous warnings from almost every direction in his life that he shouldn’t smoke — from his former wife Glenda, his daughter and a nephew with whom he worked on his successful HVAC business. Thus, Ryals knew smoking was dangerous and so do many other people in the nation, arguing that 60 million people are alive today because they quit smoking.