Attorneys for buy cigarettes companies are countering the claims of a former Fort Myers smoker who places blame on the companies for laryngeal cancer he suffered in 1993.

John Szymanski is the first of about 150 plaintiffs in Lee County to take on the cigarettes store companies following a $145 billion class action lawsuit that was de-certified in 2006, allowing individuals to file their own cases.

Walter Cofer, who represents Philip Morris, delivered the bulk of the opening statement for the three tobacco companies listed in the claim.

While Cofer admitted cheap cigarettes can cause cancer and nicotine can be addictive, he said the questions for the purpose of this trial are whether it was Szymanski’s smoking cigarettes — or some other factor — that caused the cancer, whether he was in fact addicted and whether the tobacco companies hold any culpability for that addiction.

“As you’re listening to the evidenced in this case, ask yourselves, ‘What does this have to do with Jack Szymanski,’ ” Cofer said. “It’s his case. It’s not a referendum on cigarette companies.”

Cofer went on to say the evidence will show Szymanski’s testimony in depositions has been inconsistent, and that information regarding the risks of smoking cigarettes was available to Szymanski at the time he started smoking cigarettes.

The entire trial is expected to span about three weeks.
10:03 a.m.

Opening statements are under way now in the first of about 150 tobacco trials slated for Lee County and among thousands across the state.

Attorneys for former Fort Myers smoker John Szymanski are previewing their case to the jury, which was selected after four days from a pool of hundreds.

Szymanski's attorneys contend their 72-year-old client does hold some responsibility for the onset of his laryngeal and tongue cancers, but that evidence will show tobacco companies for years conspired to conceal the risks of their products, which Szymanski began using as a young teen in the early 1950s.

His attorneys are urging the jury to continuously remind themselves throughout the trial of the fact that when Szymanski started smoking cigarettes, it was a different time - when information on smoking cigarettes dangers wasn't readily available, nearly half of all U.S. adults smoked and two-thirds of all physicians did as well.

Still, they say the tobacco companies continued to deny the health risks for decades. A 1994 C-SPAN clip of a congressional hearing was just played, showing the heads of tobacco companies testifying that nicotine is not addictive.

The case is among 8,000 others across the state born of a $145 billion class action suit that was de-certified in 2006, opening the doors for ailing smokers and their survivors to file individual cases. Many of the more than 50 that have so far gone to trial statewide have resulted in multi-million dollar payouts for the plaintiffs.

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