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Smoker sues cigarette maker for addiction


MERCER ISLAND, Wash. -- It was just a few months ago that engineer Al Deskiewicz realized, as he puts it, "Al, you're a drug addict."

After 34 years of smoking some 35 Marlboros daily, Mr. Deskiewicz knew he needed medical help to quit smoking. And one more thought occurred to him: Philip Morris, the makers of Marlboros, shared responsibility with him for his addiction.

The conglomerate disagreed. Mr. Deskiewicz responded with a small-claims lawsuit, only the second such suit against a tobacco company.

Like other people who've sued tobacco companies for damages -- about 300 since the 1950s -- Mr. Deskiewicz, 51, is claiming product liability. "They have a product with a problem they didn't warn me about," he said.

But unlike most plaintiffs, Mr. Deskiewicz is not arguing that cigarettes gave him cancer. He is hoping to prove that nicotine is addictive and that Philip Morris never disclosed that information.

He wants Judge Linda Jacke in Mercer Island District Court to order the New York-based corporation to pay him $1,153.44 for physician visits, nicotine patches and a health club membership. Yesterday, Judge Jacke decided to continue the case at a date to be set in June.

There weren't any warning labels on cigarette packs in 1959 when Mr. Deskiewicz started smoking. The first appeared in 1964, were revised to be harsher in 1969 and again in 1984. While they address many health problems associated with smoking, none says nicotine is addictive.

The district court claim could succeed where larger civil lawsuits have failed, experts say. In 35 years of litigation, none of the bigger suits has been successful.

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