Woman’s $25-Million Suit Contends Clove Cigarettes Damaged Her Son’s Lungs
A Buena Park woman whose 17-year-old son allegedly contracted a debilitating lung ailment after smoking clove cigarettes filed a $25-million lawsuit Monday against the makers, sellers and distributors of the cigarettes.
The suit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, charges that three stores, three manufacturers, a distributor and an importer “negligently, carelessly and recklessly failed to adequately warn potential users of . . . clove cigarettes as to the hazards and dangers in connection with (their) use.”
The suit is the second filed in Orange County in connection with injuries attributed to clove cigarettes. Last March, another $25-million suit was brought on behalf of a Newport Beach teen-ager whose death was blamed on clove cigarettes.
The suit filed Monday charges that several months after David Story, a Buena Park High School senior, began smoking clove cigarettes in 1984, he began to have difficulty breathing and coughed up blood, his attorney, Eric Lampel, said during a Monday afternoon press conference.
“David was a healthy young kid, and all of a sudden his life went downhill,” Lampel said. Story--who said he started smoking the “sweet” cigarettes for “the smell and the taste”--was hospitalized last August with double pneumonia, and his left lung became inflamed and filled with fluid. He later contracted two lung abscesses, lost 16 pounds and was diagnosed as having acute asthma, Lampel said.
Lampel said that doctors have linked Story’s ailment to the clove cigarettes. Karen Lowery, Story’s mother, names as defendants in the suit 7-Eleven stores and its parent firm, the Southland Corp.; Sav-On drugstores; Helen’s Tobacco Shop; Phillips & King Cigar Co., the distributor; Tasmar Importers; Djarum Kudus Manufacturing; Jakarta Manufacturing and Krakatoa manufacturing.
She is asking for $25 million in punitive damages, plus special damages for medical care, general damages, attorney’s fees and compensation for loss of earnings.
“David used to be very active, a non-stop person,” Lowery said. “He’s now listless all the time and never feels good.” In addition, she said, Story lost his job collecting shopping carts at a local discount store, has had to enroll in night school on doctors’ orders because there is less pollen and dust kicked up at night, and he has been hospitalized twice between August, 1984, and March, 1985.
“For eight months it was a nightmare,” Lowery said, “and it’s not over yet.”
Last year, about 150 million clove cigarettes were sold in the United States, compared to 600 billion regular cigarettes. Although clove cigarettes were created in the 1880s in Indonesia and were introduced to the United States in the 1970s, it was not until about four years ago that they became a Southern California fad, industry experts say.
Although considered by many smokers to be a low-tobacco substitute for conventional cigarettes, the imports actually contain about 60% tobacco and about 40% cloves--and almost twice as much tar and nicotine as moderate-tar American cigarettes.
Dozen Cases Recorded
The federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta recorded 12 cases of severe illness possibly associated with smoking clove cigarettes between March, 1984, and May, 1985. Symptoms in the 11 patients hospitalized included blood- or fluid-filled lungs, constriction of the air passageways and coughing up of blood, according to the CDC.
The CDC’s tally did not include the death of Tim Cislaw, a 17-year-old Newport Harbor High School student who developed shortness of breath shortly after smoking a clove cigarette early in 1984.
It was Cislaw’s parents who filed the $25-million lawsuit last March, claiming that the sellers, makers and importers were negligent in supplying “dangerous and defective” cigarettes. Lampel is also the Cislaws’ attorney.
Meanwhile, the results of a scientific study due to be completed next week on the possible toxic effects of smoking clove cigarettes show that eugenol--the major component of cloves--can be lethal to animals when administered directly into the lungs.
“We were charged with finding out if there was any exceptional risk involved in smoking clove cigarettes,” said Edmond LaVoie, associate chief of environmental carcinogens at the American Health Foundation, a nonprofit, independent research foundation funded through the National Institutes of Health.
“And we found that eugenol did not appear to be as innocuous as we once thought,” he said in a telephone interview Monday.
Animals Experience Symptoms
LaVoie found that the symptoms reported by smokers of clove cigarettes can also be observed in animals treated with eugenol, he said. The results of LaVoie’s study are in the process of being reviewed for publication in medical journals.
But Charles Ecker, spokesman for the Los Angeles-based Specialty Tobacco Council, contends that studies such as LaVoie’s are inconclusive because of problems in methodology. Ecker arrived at Lampel’s press conference before the attorney himself and voiced the tobacco industry’s point of view on the controversial product.
“He (Lampel) is making a lot of generalizations,” Ecker said. “The reports that he refers to that say concretely that clove cigarettes are damaging do not exist.
“There is too much speculation and not enough proof in condemning clove cigarettes,” he said. “We hope this can go to court so the courts can decide this once and for all.”
Ecker said that there are about 250,000 fairly regular clove cigarette smokers in the United States; they consume eight to 12 cigarettes daily, while average smokers of regular tobacco consume between 24 and 30 cigarettes a day.
“The most interesting thing is that about one-third of those 250,000 regular smokers are in Los Angeles and Orange counties,” Ecker said. “This is the primary area where those cigarettes are used.”
Renee Haas, spokeswoman for the Southland Corp., which operates the 7-Eleven convenience stores, refused comment on the suit.
“We have not been served yet, so we cannot comment on a suit we haven’t seen,” Haas said in a telephone interview. “But we are going to be recommending that clove cigarettes be removed from the shelves. A memo to that effect should go out early next week.”
Because most of the 600 7-Eleven stores in the Southern California district that Haas oversees are privately owned franchises, the recommendation will not be binding, she said.
But to David Story, that’s a start.
“I used to be swimming or playing softball or football all the time,” the slender youth said before turning his head to cough deeply. “Now I just sit in my room and listen to my stereo.
“A lot of my friends used to smoke clove cigarettes,” he said. “But I keep telling them not to. I don’t want to see my friends’ lives wasted.”
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