ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Saying the issue of high-nicotine tobacco is central to their case, the plaintiffs in Minnesota’s tobacco trial on Wednesday argued jurors should see and hear testimony about the export of seeds for such tobacco.
The state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota filed a motion to admit part of a videotaped deposition by Roger Black, an employee of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.
On the tape, Black invokes his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when questioned about the export of seeds for a type of high-nicotine tobacco called Y-1.
B&W’s development and use of Y-1 “goes to the heart of plaintiff’s claims of nicotine manipulation and the focus of Brown & Williamson on nicotine delivery,” the state said.
“Brown and Williamson has attempted to hoodwink the jury by creating the impression” that it developed Y-1 in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The company was not working with USDA, the state said.
The plaintiffs seek $1.77 billion to repay costs of treating smoking-related illnesses, plus punitive damages. They allege fraud and deceit by tobacco companies in concealing the dangers of smoking for decades.
The deposition of Black, director of leaf blending for B&W, was taken Jan. 16 for New York state’s class-action suit against the major tobacco companies.
The U.S. Justice Department also is investigating the export of Y-1 seeds to Brazil. A California biotechnology company pleaded guilty in January to conspiring with Brown & Williamson to grow and improve the high-nicotine tobacco abroad from 1983 to 1994, when the export of U.S.-developed seeds without a permit was illegal.
Plaintiffs in the Minnesota case gave notice on Saturday that they intended to play the portion of Black’s deposition where he asserts his Fifth Amendment privilege.
B&W sought to prevent introduction of that portion of Black’s deposition, saying it would prejudice the jury to show him asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege.
The company said it acknowledged developing Y-1 and using it in its products.
“Those facts may be relevant to plaintiffs’ contentions regarding nicotine,” the company argued. “But the fact that Y-1 tobacco was grown in Brazil is irrelevant to plaintiffs’ contentions regarding nicotine. How Y-1 seeds got to Brazil is of even less consequence,” the company argued.
B&W used the genetically engineered tobacco leaves with twice the nicotine of other leaves to mix with other varieties in some of its cigarettes, a chemical engineering expert testified earlier in the trial.
Tobacco attorneys tried earlier to block admission of a videotaped deposition by Thomas Osdene, a former Philip Morris researcher, by arguing that his repeated invocation of the Fifth Amendment would be prejudicial.
But Ramsey County District Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick rejected that argument, and the Osdene tape was played last week and Tuesday.