In-flight smoke blamed for cancer

MIAMI (AP) — Mildred McQuown was curious when she started seeing messages suggesting get-well notes for cancer-stricken flight attendants on a bulletin board at the Northwest Airlines base in Minneapolis.
Then she noticed the messages giving way to requests for sympathy cards.
McQuown, who lost one breast to cancer in 1991, is one of 26 nonsmoking flight attendants who have filed a $5 billion class-action lawsuit against the tobacco industry, blaming in-flight cigarette smoke for making them sick. Two of the original plaintiffs have died of cancer since the lawsuit was filed six years ago.
The case comes to trial Monday with the start of jury selection in the first secondhand smoke case ever faced by cigarette makers.
The industry denies that smoking, let alone environmental tobacco smoke, causes cancer, and its attorneys fought unsuccessfully to keep the case from being certified as class-action on behalf of 60,000 nonsmoking flight attendants.
The government ordered the creation of separate smoking and nonsmoking sections on passenger planes in 1972, then barred smoking on domestic flights of less than two hours in 1988. By 1990, the ban covered most domestic flights.
By last summer, four-fifths of U.S. airline flights to and from other countries were smokeless and more will go smoke-free this year.
The attendants believe they were unwittingly placed at a higher risk than other nonsmokers because of the air recirculating systems on jets.
“If one person smokes on a flight, everybody smokes,” said Norma Broin, of Stafford, Va., the lead plaintiff in the case.
Just last month, Harvard researchers reported regular exposure to secondhand smoke appears to almost double the risk of heart disease, one of 22 ailments named in the lawsuit.
Broin is considered an ideal plaintiff because her Mormon lifestyle kept her away from smoking, drinking and other lifestyle factors implicated in many cancer cases. Her lung cancer is in remission, and she is working full-time on nonsmoking American Airlines flights.
Growth in anti-tobacco sentiment may be working in favor of the attendants, especially with thousands of workplaces banning smoking. A $750,000 judgment in a Jacksonville lung cancer case last August pierced the perception of tobacco’s invulnerability, even though a similar lawsuit failed in May. The judgment is being appealed.
The first Medicaid suits are set for trial in July in Mississippi and in August in West Palm Beach, Fla. The flight attendants’ case will be followed by a class-action suit on behalf of 500,000 Florida smokers.