Jury Rejects Claim That Snuff Caused Cancer Death

From Times Wire Services

A federal jury today rejected a woman’s claim that the death of her teen-age son from oral cancer was caused by his six-year use of Copenhagen snuff.

The jury’s verdict was a victory for U.S. Tobacco Co., which was fighting a $147-million lawsuit filed by Betty Ann Marsee of Ada.

Marsee had claimed that her son, Sean, developed oral cancer and died from the disease after using the snuff product manufactured by U.S. Tobacco.

The jury’s verdict came after about six hours of deliberations today and Thursday.


Marsee, who died in 1984 at age 19, had dipped snuff for six years, according to his family. His mother’s lawsuit alleged that her son’s death was due to his use of smokeless tobacco.

No Warning Label

Marsee testified during the trial that her son believed that snuff was safe because it carried no warning label and because athletes, like former Dallas Cowboy running back Walt Garrison, advertised it.

In his closing argument, U.S. Tobacco lawyer Alston Jennings said “it is abundantly clear from the testimony in this case that Sean Marsee’s cancer of the tongue was not caused by snuff.”


Dania Deschamps-Braly, attorney for Marsee, contended that U.S. Tobacco knew of the dangers of dipping snuff but failed to warn its customers and continued to promote its use by teen-agers.

“U.S. Tobacco was wrong: willfully, morally, evilly wrong,” she said during her closing argument Thursday.

She had asked the jury to award Marsee almost $137 million--the equivalent of the company’s 1983 profits--along with more than $58,000 in medical and burial expenses, and $10 million for pain and suffering.

No Conclusive Proof

Jennings said there is no conclusive proof that using snuff causes oral cancer.

“It’s undisputed that everyone who uses snuff doesn’t get cancer. The overwhelming number of people don’t get cancer,” he said.

Jennings said there are also people who get oral cancer but who have never used tobacco.

“All the literature said there is no known cause of tongue cancer in these young patients,” Jennings said. “Can you now see why the court will tell you, ‘Don’t let sympathy or emotion play any part in your verdict?’ ”


Dr. Carl Hook, who treated Marsee in the early stages of the disease, testified that the teenager’s oral cancer was caused by snuff.