First UK Smoking Trial Underway In Edinburgh

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - The first lawsuit by a British smoker against a tobacco company to reach the trial phase began in a court in Edinburgh on Tuesday, 10 years after the initial complaint was filed.

Alf McTear sued Imperial Tobacco in 1993, arguing that he was not fully informed about the dangers of smoking when he started his habit at the age of 20 in 1964.

He died of lung cancer shortly after filing the lawsuit, and his wife Margaret McTear continued the legal action, asking for $800,000 from the company.

McTear testified before his death that he was unaware of the risks of smoking until he was diagnosed with cancer, and that tobacco advertising had been a factor in his decision to start smoking.

Health warning labels were put on cigarette packs in the U.K. in 1971. Mrs. McTear is arguing that her husband's lung cancer was caused by smoking up to three packs per day, mostly of Imperial brands, and that he wasn't warned by the company of the risks of smoking or the addictive nature of nicotine.

The case is the first of its kind to reach a British court. In 1999, a class action lawsuit was brought against Imperial Tobacco and Gallaher, Britain's two biggest cigarette manufacturers, but was thrown out when it was discovered that a three-year statute of limitations had run out on some of the cases.

The judge in that case also ruled that the suit would have a low probability of success.

Imperial denies responsibility for McTear's death, and reports Tuesday said the firm planned to argue that smokers have the ability to quit and that McTear was well aware of the risks of smoking and yet still chose to smoke.

The trial is expected to last more than four months.

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