Washington state has collected more than $4 billion in cigarette taxes since 1955, an industry lawyer told jurors, and it shouldn't demand any more money from tobacco companies.
"We're saying it's unfair to turn around and try to collect that toll twice," Brad Keller, representing R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., said Tuesday in opening remarks.The state has sued seven tobacco companies, seeking reimbursement for the Medicaid costs of treating patients with tobacco-related problems. That amounts to $2.2 billion dating back to 1953.
Dan Webb of Philip Morris Inc. said the state took in - via taxes - double the amount of money it says it spent on medical treatments.
"They're entitled to nothing . . . zero damages," Webb said.
The trial began Monday with opening statements by the state's lawyers. The state is expected to call its first witness Thursday, after a one-day break for observance of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.
On Tuesday, lawyers representing the tobacco industry attacked the state's claim that their clients allegedly violated antitrust and consumer-protection laws.
Keller said the state - which has one of the nation's highest cigarette taxes at 82.5 cents per pack - was a willing partner in the sale of cigarettes.
"The evidence is going to show the state is the gatekeeper," Keller said. "It made the choice years ago to open up those gates and sell this product."
The tobacco lawyers insisted there was no conspiracy by the seven tobacco companies to mislead the public about health issues. The cigarette industry also denied the state's earlier charge that there was an agreement not to do research on a safer cigarette.
In 1990, Webb said, Philip Morris put a virtually nicotine-free cigarette called Next on the market, developed from technology used to remove caffeine from coffee.
The company spent $300 million and four years developing Next cigarettes, which did well initially but eventually failed.
"Remember `New Coke?' If consumers won't buy a product, there's nothing you can do about it," Webb said.
Three dozen other states have lawsuits pending against the industry. Four states - Florida, Texas, Mississippi and Minnesota - have reached settlements for a combined $36.8 billion.