The Cigarette and the Damages Done


Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Philip Morris' last-ditch appeal in a case involving a former Marlboro smoker from California, Patricia Henley, who in 1999 won a jaw-dropping $51.5 million verdict against the cigarette maker. The award, $50 million of which was for punitive damages, eventually was reduced to $10.5 million, which with interest now stands at $16.7 million. Henley, who developed lung cancer after smoking for 35 years, is only the fourth plaintiff to receive compensatory damages from a tobacco company for injuries caused by smoking, and the first to receive punitive damages. As I wrote shortly after the verdict, it's not hard to see why the jury was mad at Philip Morris, but its decision ignored the plain fact that Henley chose to smoke even though she knew it was dangerous. No amount of hemming and hawing by tobacco executives about the health consequences of smoking could hide what has long been common knowledge.