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November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and a Florida jury kicked it off by sending a message about the dangers of cigarettes with a well-timed verdict against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The cigarette maker was ordered on Nov. 3 to pay $14 million in punitive damages to the widow of a long-time smoker, according to a Law360 report.
The substantial sum of money was awarded to Barbara Jean Johnston, whose husband, Franklin Johnston, died from lung cancer after being a three-pack-a-day smoker for most of his life. His addiction was so bad, that in the 70’s he was unable to cut back even though it meant he might not be able to put food on the table, the Law360 report says.
The punitive damages announced last Thursday came just a day after Mrs. Johnston was awarded $10.5 million for compensatory damages, bringing the entire verdict to $24.5 million.
Why Are Tobacco Companies Liable?
For decades, tobacco companies concealed just how dangerous its products were. As a result, smokers puffed away on cigarettes without fear of consequences.
When people found out cigarettes were actually extremely unhealthy and greatly increased the likelihood of cancer, lawsuits were filed against many of the tobacco companies.
In one of many large verdicts that followed, our attorneys, Keith Mitnik and Greg Prysock, were able to obtain a jury verdict of $90.8 million for Lyantie Townsend, the wife of a long-time smoker. In fact, the story of Mrs. Townsend’s husband is remarkably similar to that of Mrs. Johnston’s.
Yet, despite these landmark verdicts and the incontrovertible evidence that says cigarettes are dangerous, many people still smoke them.
Cigarettes: Still A Major Cause of Cancer in America
A recently published study found that cigarettes account for more than a quarter of all cancer deaths in America, according to the New York Times. While these deaths are not all attributed to lung cancer, the study found that smoking cigarettes caused between 80 and 85 percent of all lung cancer deaths in the U.S.
The study did acknowledge that tobacco control efforts are working, having prevented an estimated eight million premature deaths. Still, many people continue to smoke, and cigarettes remain the leading cause of lung cancer, by far.
Smokers can greatly reduce the likelihood of developing lung cancer by quitting. However, that is easier said than done, and a person may not want to quit.
Early Detection is Key
Whether a person is a smoker or recently quit, they should make sure they are screened for lung cancer, according to the Lung Cancer Alliance. Lung cancer screenings check for abnormalities in the lungs using a CT scan.
The goal of the screenings is to catch the cancer early in people with a higher risk of developing the disease. If the cancer is caught early it is more manageable, and the person diagnosed with it has a greater chance of survival.
It is recommended that a person get a lung cancer screening if they are between the ages of 55 and 80, have at least 30 “pack-years” (average number of packs smoked per day multiplied by number of years as a smoker), and currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years.
While these tests can help detect cancer early, which is the best case scenario for treatment, there is no substitution for quitting. Ideally, one day screening tests will be unnecessary because people have stopped smoking cigarettes altogether. That is probably unattainable now, and until it is, smokers should monitor their health very closely.