ORLEANS, France — An appeals court denied a request Monday for damages by the widow of a three-pack-a-day smoker, ruling that it was the state-owned tobacco company's job to make money for the government.
The company, Seita, "was not unaware of the correlation between smoking and the risk of cancer, notably of the lungs," the court said. But it said Seita's status as a state-run company did not permit it to "make this information known to the public."
"It's extraordinary," said Francis Caballero, lawyer for Lucette Gourlain, whose 49-year-old husband, Richard, died of cancer. She had sought $414,000 from Seita, the company that makes the Gauloises and Gitanes brand cigarettes.
Caballero called the decision a "total defeat," not only for his client but for public health, and said he would file a new appeal.
A lower court ruled in December 1999 that Seita was partially to blame for Richard Gourlain's death. But it said Gourlain also bore responsibility for failing to quit smoking after a law warning consumers about the dangers of smoking was introduced in 1976.
Altadis Group, Seita's parent company after its merger with Spanish tobacco giant Tabacalera, hailed the ruling, noting that the group has emerged unscathed from trials in France, Spain and Poland.
The appeals court has "confirmed that consumers have long had information on the risks linked to tobacco consumption and that no one can hide his individual responsibility," Altadis said in a statement.
Gourlain began smoking at age 13. When he died, he had cancer in both lungs and his tongue.