Widow sues tobacco giant for £500,000 in landmark lawsuit

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The Independent Online

The words of a cancer victim, seduced by the glamorous fantasy portrayed by cigarette advertising, were read out in court yesterday as his widow began a lawsuit against the tobacco company she blames for his death.

Alfred McTear's final tirade against the tobacco industry - made in a court statement just days before his death - was used to open the final round in his widow's battle against Imperial Tobacco.

Mr McTear, a former soldier, died in 1993 of lung cancer but before his death he and his wife Margaret initiated a claim against the Imperial Tobacco to "hit back at the tobacco companies" and alert younger people to the dangers.

Since her husband's death Mrs McTear, of Beith in Ayrshire, has continued to fight for £500,000 in damages - the first claim of its kind in the UK - because of her husband's belief that if he had been warned about the dangers of nicotine poisoning, addiction and the possibility of cancer, he would never have started the 60-a-day smoking habit which eventually killed him.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh heard that Mr McTear's parents also both died from smoking-related illnesses and that Mr McTear had claimed that if he had he been told in the early 1960s that his parents illnesses were connected to smoking he would never have started.

In his statement, Mr McTear was recorded as having said: "I fell for the advertising and all my friends smoked. The advertising made it glamorous. It was the "man about town" sort of thing. If you went for a drink you would always hand them round the company.

"It was always promises, promises, promises," he added, citing an advertisement of the time which suggested that a domestic row between husband and wife could be settled by giving her a Player's to calm things down.

A series of early 1960s ads for a range of cigarettes, showing happy smiling romantic couples or sportsmen in heroic poses, were shown to the court by Colin McEachran, counsel for the McTear family.

In accordance with Mr McTear's evidence, none of the ads gave any warning about the possible health dangers of smoking. The legal obligation to put warnings on cigarette packets was not introduced until 1971 by which time Mr McTear said he was addicted and unable to give up.

Mr McTear had claimed that each time he tried to give up, his mood swings would affect his wife and three children and turn him into a "bear with a sore head".

Only after he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in 1992 was he finally frightened into quitting the habit which had turned him into a "chain smoker".

Having started on 10 cigarettes a day in 1964, aged 20, he was smoking between 60 and 66 a day by the time he was diagnosed with a tumour in his bronchial tubes and cancer in his lung.

"God forgive me but I enjoyed it. I still want to smoke even though I've got all this happening to me," he said in his final statement.

The case, which is expected to last up to 20 weeks, could open the door to hundreds of similar actions and Imperial Tobacco, manufacturer of Mr McTear's favourite brand of Player's cigarettes, is expected to do everything in its power to avoid the opening of the floodgates to more cases.

While cross-examining Mrs McTear, who is herself a former smoker and who backed up her husband's assertions that advertising 40 years ago had played a major part in their taking up the habit, the tobacco company began to paint a different picture of Mr McTear.

Using former military and legal records Mr Michael Jones, for Imperial Tobacco, claimed Mr McTear, who had an alcohol problem and numerous criminal convictions for fraud, assault, fire raising and breach of the peace, had previously ignored medical advice about his health in relation to other matters.

Over the next few weeks, Imperial Tobacco is expected cast doubt on the strength of scientific evidence which links smoking and lung cancer.

They are also expected to stress that there has been a long-standing awareness of the dangers of smoking and that Mr McTear chose to smoke after official warnings were introduced and that he could, like other smokers, have quit if he had wanted.