MIAMI — Health advocates and anti-smoking crusaders celebrated Friday's $145 billion punitive damage award against Big Tobacco as a stinging condemnation of an industry they consider pure evil.
"By allowing the jury to put a number on it, blowing out of the water any other award, it lets the jury say to the world, 'We unanimously tell you this is the most evil industry in the history of mankind,"' said Joe Cherner, president of Smoke Free Educational Services.
"The jury saw the tobacco industry as merchants of death and they have said the time has come for them to pay for their actions," said Ahron Leichtman, executive director of Citizens for a Tobacco-Free Society.
"The tobacco industry's chickens have finally come home to roost," said Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"For more than 40 years, the tobacco industry has known that it is responsible for more than one-third of all deaths from cancer and heart disease in the United States. For all this time, the industry has continued to lie abut its deadly products and has done nothing to stop the carnage," Myers said. "The Florida jury rightly concluded that the tobacco industry has caused more harm to more people over a longer period of time than any other industry in history."
Though most anti-smoking advocates were skeptical that any of the 500,000 sick smokers represented in the Florida case would ever see a penny of the award, they said the verdict's message would survive the inevitable appeals.
The American Heart Association said the verdict sends a message to the tobacco industry that "its disregard and contempt for public health and human life does have an equally high price."
Dr. Randolph Smoak, president of the American Medical Association, called the verdict "a victory for public health."
"The jurors' message is loud and clear: The tobacco industry must pay for addicting and poisoning people for profit," Smoak said. "Big Tobacco will not profit from their deceptive marketing and advertising tactics, which ultimately brought suffering and death to so many of their customers, our patients.
"The unprecedented verdict sends a strong message to the tobacco industry that toying with the health and lives of Americans can be a prohibitively expensive business."
Others said the award signaled more legal losses ahead for cigarette makers.
"It is just the beginning of a new and more costly phase of litigation for Big Tobacco as other multibillion anti-tobacco suits move forward in the courts," said Washington, D.C., lawyer Martha Talley, whose firm represents a coalition of Blue Cross and Blue Shield organizations in a multibillion lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
"The decades of deceit regarding the dangers of smoking that made the jurors in the Engle (case) reach their historic decision will be a key element of our case as well."
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart declined to comment specifically on the Engle verdict but said, "We have always believed that the tobacco industry is responsible for the way they have marketed and produced their products."
"It's about a very serious, probably the most serious public health issue we have in this country with more than 3,000 kids starting to smoke every day. A third of them will die early from it. And we think we need to continue to address this in many ways," Lockhart said.