A Suffolk Superior Court jury on Wednesday awarded a $21 million judgment against Philip Morris USA to the family of a 59-year-old Lynn man who died of lung cancer in 2016 after smoking the company’s cigarettes for most of his life, an attorney for the plaintiffs said.
The judgment against the tobacco giant was awarded to the family of Fred R. Laramie, said their lawyer, Walter Kelley of the firm Bernheim Dolinsky Kelley LLC. The Courtroom View Network first reported the verdict.
“It was our honor and privilege to fight for what is right on behalf of the Laramie family against a Defendant with unlimited resources and an army of the best lawyers money can buy,” Kelley said in an e-mail.
Philip Morris USA couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
The civil complaint that Laramie’s widow, Pamela Laramie, filed in July 2017 said her husband began smoking at age 11. Fred Laramie was “handed his first free pack of cigarettes in or around 1969 from Philip Morris and other cigarette manufacturers or people passing the cigarettes out on their behalf on Summer Street” in Lynn.
The complaint said Fred Laramie received more free samples over the course of months, “if not years,” and became a nicotine addict “particularly drawn to Marlboro cigarettes.”
Attorneys for Philip Morris USA said in legal filings that the company “does not direct, and has never directed, its cigarette advertising or marketing to persons under the legal age for purchasing cigarettes in the United States.”
The company did acknowledge in the court papers that it “has participated in marketing activities, including sampling of its cigarettes to existing smokers of legal age for purchasing cigarettes in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Fred Laramie served for 21 years in the Massachusetts Army National Guard and also worked for the MBTA, first as a bus driver and later as an inspector, according to his obituary posted to the Solimine Funeral Homes website.
“Following retirement from the MBTA, Fred began working at Jet Blue Airways and was there up until his illness,” the notice said. “ . . . Fred loved spending time at his summer cottage in New Hampshire but was definitely a homebody. He was always involved in projects at home to keep him active, but what was most important to him was the time he was able to spend with his family.”
Kelley said Thursday via e-mail that Philip Morris “intentionally engineered their cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction, knowing full well that their customers would likely develop lung cancer. Even worse, they targeted the most vulnerable people in our society, kids, by handing out free sample packs of cigarettes in densely populated neighborhoods throughout greater Boston in the 1960s.”
Philip Morris’s parent company, Altria Group, says on its website that it’s working to reduce underage tobacco consumption and supports raising the minimum age for all tobacco products to 21.
In February, the site says, Altria “announced our planned investment of an additional $100 million over two years, beyond our current investments in underage tobacco prevention, to help address youth e-vapor use. We are working with stakeholders, including the FDA, to determine how best to allocate these resources to complement existing efforts toward the goal of preventing youth tobacco use.”