Where There's Smoke...
After a three-week trial and nine hours of deliberation, the jury of six agreed. Last week they awarded Carter and his wife, 52-year-old Millie, a breast-cancer survivor, $750,000. To the $45 billion tobacco industry that's small change, but for Carter and his Jacksonville lawyer, Norwood "Woody" Wilner—and to antismoking advocates across the country—the victory sets a legal precedent. In 40 years of lawsuits, tobacco firms have paid not one thin dime to smokers or their relatives. Thomas Fitzgerald, a spokesman for Brown & Williamson, maker of Lucky Strikes, says this verdict, too, will be appealed: "We're convinced it's a product of error."
Carter is "a perfect example of how good people, strong-willed people, are portrayed as the villains by the tobacco companies," says Wilner, who had damning evidence to the contrary: leaked Brown & Williamson documents showing that its executives knew as far back as 1963 that smoking was addictive and could cause cancer. Carter, a retired air-traffic control chief, started smoking when he was 12. "The advertisements made you feel it was the thing to do," he says.
Over the years he tried to quit, consulting physicians and resorting to injections and nicotine gum. Only after he began coughing up blood in 1991 was he able to stop. "There's no way to explain the terror," he says of the cancer diagnosis. "You think of your wife, your kids, your grandkids. It's a death sentence." Despite lingering pain from surgery that removed a third of his left lung, Carter has passed the five-year milestone that cancer survivors celebrate. The $750,000—if he ever receives it—doesn't much matter. "I don't care if it was just $50," he says. "I'm a blessed man."