Piendle v. RJ Reynolds, the first Engle-progeny tobacco trial to be held in Palm Beach, Florida pits Searcy Denney’s Greg Barnhart, representing Charlie Piendle’s widow, Margaret Piendle, against Jones Day’s Peter Biersteker, on behalf of RJ Reynolds, and Shook Hardy Bacon’s Frank Kelly, on behalf of Philip Morris. CVN is webcasting live, gavel-to-gavel.
According to Mr. Barnhart, Charlie Piendle started smoking in 6th or 7th grade, in the early 1950′s. Piendle smoked two packs per day for 30 years. In 1995, at age 54, he was diagnosed with cancer, and he died in 1996.
Mr. Barnhart said that in the 1950′s some studies were publicized linking lung cancer to smoking, which resulted in a serious sales decline. In response, according to Mr. Barnhart, the tobacco executives from various companies held an emergency Christmas Eve meeting at the Plaza Hotel in 1953, and “linked arms” to hire the best public relations firm they could — Hill & Knowlton — to undermine the perceived health threat.
“It’s fortunate for us,” one of the executives at the 1953 meeting allegedly said, “that cigarettes are a habit they can’t break,” Barnhart recounted. The executives set as their goal, said Barnhart, to assuage smokers’ anxiety, and came up with the Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers which was published in January 4, 1954, and “devised a plan that was carried out for the next 50 years.”
The plan, according to Barnhart, was to make it easy to start, make it as hard as possible to stop, and make it as easy as possible to start up again. ”What happens,” concluded Barnhart, “is that teenagers’ brains are not fully developed…if you start, as Charlie Piendle did, as a teenager or a very young teenager, you are more likely to become addicted because of the effect of nicotine on the young and immature brain.”
Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds,” said Barnhart, “kept [Charlie Piendle] smoking, they prolonged his smoking, they helped him become addicted, they kept him smoking at high levels, and they provided a psychological crutch so that Charlie, and all of the millions of Charlie’s around this country, would keep on smoking. They comported with what they planned to do in 1953, their brilliantly executed plan, you’ll find, when the evidence continues today, cigarette sales went up after 1953, they created doubt, and they made relapse so doggone easy.”
Representing RJ Reynolds, Peter Biersteker told the jury,“Nobody forced Mr. Piendle to smoke. Nobody tricked him…He called cigarettes ‘cancer sticks’…when…he started smoking…And everybody referred to cigarettes as ‘coffin nails…’
“Over the years, Mr. Piendle received thousands — thousands — of warnings, including the warnings that were on the packs, about the health risks of smoking, and despite knowing the health risks of smoking, Mr. Piendle, a former Marine, who was strong-willed, not weak, and pretty much did what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it, enjoyed smoking, and he chose to smoke.”
“There will be no evidence that Mr. Piendle ever tried or wanted to quit in the 1950s and 1960s. You will hear about some New Year’s resolutions that Mr. and Mrs. Piendle made in the 1970s and in the 1980s. But the evidence will be that they weren’t that serious, and they weren’t even that memorable to Mrs. Piendle.
“The evidence will finally be, as you heard before, that in 1989 Mr. Piendle made a choice, and he just quit. He went cold turkey. And apart from being a little moody…he didn’t exhibit the other symptoms that people who are addicted experience when they quit. He just quit. He never picked up another cigarette, despite the fact that Mrs. Piendle was still smoking.”
Moreover, said Mr. Biersteker, “There will be no evidence that anything that RJ Reynolds or Philip Morris did or did not do — other than selling cigarettes, which is perfectly legal — caused him to start or kept him from quitting smoking…”
“In view of the evidence you will hear about Mr. Piendle’s disregard of the information he knew or that was readily available to him about the health risks of smoking, the evidence will be that Reynolds and Philip Morris should bear no, or at most a very small, portion of responsibility.”
Frank Kelly, on behalf of Philip Morris, explained a range of different definitions of what constitutes addiction. Mr. Kelly suggested that “Mr. Piendle was a very social guy, had a lot of friends. And many of those friends smoked. When he was with those friends, he smoked. When he was in situations where you couldn’t smoke — like in movies, restaurants, when he went on his long motorcycle rides — he didn’t need to smoke.”
“Mr. Piendle was never diagnosed as being addicted to nicotine and cigarettes. He never sought counseling to quit smoking at any time. He never complained to anybody that he was a nicotine-using addict. In fact, Mr. Piendle never complained to anybody about his inability to quit smoking. Because the evidence just isn’t there that he had an inability to quit smoking.”
CVN is providing a gavel-to-gavel, live webcast of Piendle v. RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris.