Repay cost of quitting, ex-smoker says Small claims court hears tobacco case

June 09, 1993|By New York Times News Service

SEATTLE -- A Washington state man says it cost hi $1,153.54 to quit smoking, and he wants the Philip Morris Cos. to pick up the bill.

Al Deskiewicz, 50, a design engineer from Kirkland, told Judge Linda K. Jacke yesterday that the tobacco company should pay for the the cost of his doctor's visits, nicotine patches and health club membership.

Judge Jacke said she would rule on the case in two weeks.

By bringing his case to small claims court, where cases are restricted to suits that do not exceed $2,500 and where lawyers are not permitted to argue cases, anti-smoking advocates said Mr. Deskiewicz was able to represent himself without the hefty ++ legal expenses that others have incurred against the large tobacco manufacturer.

"He has found the Achilles heel of the tobacco industry," said R.T. Ravenholt, president of American Tobaccosis Association, a anti-smoking organization in Seattle. "If he wins, he'll get the first dollar ever paid by Philip Morris to a victim of smoking."

Dozens of cases have been filed against Philip Morris and other tobacco manufacturers, Mr. Ravenholt noted, but most have been successfully opposed in the higher courts.

During yesterday's six-hour trial in Mercer Island District Court, Mr. Deskiewicz sought to prove that Philip Morris should pay for the costs of his quitting smoking because the company did not include labels on his packages of Marlboros warning him that smoking is addictive and required such treatment to quit.

Testifying on his behalf, his personal physician and another doctor from British Columbia and an anti-smoking advocate asserted that Mr. Deskiewicz had been addicted to cigarettes and showed withdrawal symptoms when he tried to quit.

"I found I could not stop after three days of trying to quit," said Mr. Deskiewicz. "If I had known it was an addiction rather than a bad habit, I would never have started."

Disputing Mr. Deskiewicz's claim, a sales director with Philip Morris in Bellevue said the evidence was inconclusive on whether nicotine is an addictive substance. In addition, the sales director, Michael Pfiel, said the company should not be responsible for the costs Mr. Deskiewicz incurred in quitting smoking.

"About 42 million Americans have quit smoking without treatment and about 95 percent of them did so without help," he said.

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