Massachusetts Jury Orders Tobacco Firm to Pay $71 Million to Family

A jury Tuesday ordered U.S. cigarette maker Lorillard Inc. to pay damages to a dead smoker’s family for allegedly enticing the woman and other black children with free cigarettes given out decades ago.

Evans vs Lorillard was the first case to claim the company targeted minorities, including young children, with samples of Newport cigarettes in the early 1960s.

The Suffolk Superior Court ordered Lorillard, which also makes Kent, True, Old Gold and other cigarette brands, to pay $50 million in damages to the estate of Marie Evans and $21 million to her son, William Evans.

The Greensboro, North Carolina, company said it will appeal the verdict.

Marie Evans died of lung cancer at age 54 in 2002 after smoking Newports for 40 years.

Weeks before she died, Evans gave testimony on video that she got samples of Newports near her home in a Boston low-income housing project when she was as young as nine.

Lorillard “denies the plaintiff’s claim that the company sampled to children or adults at Orchard Park in the early 1960s,” said spokesman Gregg Perry.

“The plaintiff’s 50-year-old memories were persuasively contradicted by testimony from several witnesses,” he said.

Phil Gorham, a tobacco company analyst with Morningstar Inc., said he did not expect the ruling to mark a new direction in litigation against cigarette makers, which have benefited from the decertification of class action lawsuits.

“They’re going to win some, they’re going to lose some,” Gorham said. “But when they do lose, they can comfortably manage any financial penalties.”

The Massachusetts decision follows a sixth straight verdict in favor of Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA unit, a competitor of Lorillard. The ruling was part of the Engle progeny cases, a decertified class action group.

Newports have seen strong sales lately, even as the U.S. government studies whether to tighten regulation of menthol cigarettes.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel is studying the health affects of the popular flavoring and whether it encourages people to start smoking. A report on the issue is expected by March.

(Additional reporting by Jon Lentz in New York; editing by John O’Callaghan)