Case of the week

One of the tobacco industry’s favourite defences in its continuing court battles fell through this week when a trial in California ended with Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds being ordered to pay $10m (£6.3m) each to Leslie Whiteley, a mother of four who is expected to die from lung cancer within a year. Crucially, Whiteley took up smoking after 1969, the year that US Congress obliged tobacco companies to put health warnings on their packets. Until this verdict, the companies had used the argument that suits by those who began smoking after 1969 should fail because the risks were made clear. As if this decision was not bad enough for Morris and Reynolds, the manufacturers, with British American Tobacco, could be facing a bill of $300bn (£188bn) after a jury in Florida awarded compensation and punitive damages to three smokers who represent an entire class of plaintiffs – every smoker in Florida who cares to join the class action. Last summer, the jury agreed that the tobacco companies were engaged in ‘extreme and outrageous’ conduct in selling a product that can cause death.