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Philip Morris to Pay $13.8 Million in Punitive Damages to Daughter of Deceased Smoker

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A jury in Los Angeles Superior Court voted 9-3 on Monday that Philip Morris USA should pay $13.8 million in punitive damages to Jodi Bullock. Betty Bullock, Jodi Bullock’s mother, died of lung cancer in 2003 after smoking Marlboros beginning at age 17 and later Benson & Hedges. Both cigarette brands are Philip Morris products.

A civil suit was originally filed against Phillip Morris in April 2001 that accused the company of fraud and product liability. A 2002 jury recommended that Philip Morris should pay Bullock $28 billion in punitive damages. However, the judge reduced the award amount to $28 million. Then, in 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District reversed the jury’s decision and a new trial was set over the punitive damages. However, the original jury still awarded Bullock $750,000 in damages and $100,000 for pain and suffering.

Philip Morris contends that the $28 million award is excessive. Nevertheless, Philip Morris is the world’s largest tobacco company. In fact, according to a 1998 Stanford University report, the company rakes in $74 billion annually, while tobacco products contribute to four million deaths per year. However, that death rate estimation was made in 1999. The World Health Organization estimates that preventable deaths caused by tobacco use will rise to 10 million per year by 2020. While Philip Morris has started youth smoking prevention programs in recent years, internal documents show that the tobacco giant continues to target adolescents as potential customers. Indeed, most smokers began before turning 18. Furthermore, Philip Morris spent $23 million in lobbying expenditures in 1998 with 22% to Democrats and 77% to Republicans—they are second only to British American Tobacco in lobbying expenditures. Given these facts, $28 million for Betty and Jodi Bullock is a drop in the hat to pay for one more life lost to the lies of big tobacco.