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Smoker's $20 million in punitive damages

A dying ex-smoker was awarded $20 million in punitive damages on Monday in her lawsuit against the United States' two largest tobacco companies.

The Superior Court jury ordered Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds to each pay $10 million to Leslie Whiteley and her husband. The same jury awarded the couple $1.7 million in compensation last week after finding that the companies deceived the public about the dangers of smoking.

That verdict was the first for a smoker who took up the habit after 1969, when the U.S. surgeon general's warnings first appeared on cigarette packages.

The Whiteleys had asked the jury for $115 million in punitive damages - which they said would represent 1 percent of the companies' combined net worth. Their lawyer said cigarette makers remain unrepentant for the harm they cause.

The jury, which started deliberating punitive damages Friday, voted 9-3, the exact margin needed for a verdict.

Of the nation's five other jury verdicts in favor of individual smokers, two in Florida and one in New Jersey were overturned on appeal; an $80 million verdict in Portland, Oregon, was reduced to $31 million by the trial judge; and a dlrs $million verdict against Philip Morris in San Francisco a year ago was cut in half by Superior Court Judge John Munter, who is also presiding over Whiteley's case.

Whiteley, 40, of Ojai in southern California, said she started smoking in 1972, at age 13. She smoked Philip Morris' Marlboros and Reynolds' Camels until 1998, when she quit shortly before doctors diagnosed small-cell lung cancer. Doctors say she will likely die this year.

The tobacco companies said Whiteley harmed herself by her admitted use of marijuana, by smoking during pregnancy and by disregarding warnings on cigarette packages.

But after reviewing internal industry documents, jurors found that the companies designed cigarettes negligently, then made false or misleading statements to the public and concealed information about the dangers of smoking.