TOBACCO SUIT WON BY ILL EX-SMOKER : $750,000 AWARDED IN LUCKY STRIKE CASE.
A man who said he started smoking in 1947 and couldn't kick the habit until he got cancer was awarded $750,000 Friday in a lawsuit against the makers of Lucky Strike cigarettes.
The verdict represents only the second time the tobacco industry has been ordered to pay damages in a smoking liability case.
The state Circuit Court jury said that the cigarettes were a defective product and that their makers were negligent for not telling people how dangerous they were.
Grady Carter, 66, had asked for at least $1.5 million from the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co.
``This is a severe blow to the industry,'' said Allan Kaplan, a tobacco stock analyst with Merrill Lynch. ``We knew that when you keep running cases, some jury is going to vote in favor of the plaintiff.''
The six-member jury deliberated for 9-1/2 hours over two days. As the verdict was announced, a smiling Carter leaned back and grasped his wife's hand.
``Somebody needed to take these people on,'' he said later. ``A lot of people are dying of lung cancer.''
Thomas Bezanson, an attorney for the tobacco company, said he expects to appeal and predicted that the verdict would be reversed.
Meantime, investor reaction was swift and harsh. Stock prices for No. 1 cigarette maker Philip Morris plunged 14 5/8 to 90 7/8, knocking $11.25 billion off the company's value.
No. 2 maker RJR Nabisco dropped 4 1/4 to 28 and Loews fell 3 5/8 to 78 7/8.
American Brands, which sold the Lucky Strikes brand to Brown & Williamson in a 1994 deal, was down moderately, as was B.A.T., Brown & Williamson's parent company.
In at least 19 tobacco liability suits, the tobacco industry has yet to pay a cent in damages.
The only other monetary award against a tobacco company in a liability case was won in 1988 by the family of Rose Cipollone of New Jersey. But the $400,000 award was overturned on appeal and the lawsuit was dropped in 1992.
In a 1990 case, a jury in Mississippi agreed that cigarettes killed longtime smoker Nathan Horton. But it awarded no damages because it found American Tobacco and Horton to be equally at fault.
Brown & Williamson had argued that Carter, a retired air traffic controller, was aware of the dangers and continued to smoke until he became ill in 1991 because he didn't want to quit.
``He continued smoking Lucky Strikes because he liked them,'' tobacco company attorney Bruce Sheffler said in closing arguments. The advice of family members and doctors didn't give Carter the motivation to stop, Sheffler said, adding, ``Mr. Carter became motivated when he started coughing up blood.''
But Sheffler said it was Carter's right to smoke and his right to determine when to quit.
Carter testified he tried to quit several times but would succumb to his cravings and light up again.
The case was the first of several similar trials scheduled for this year and next year in Circuit Court in Jacksonville. At least one trial a month is expected to be under way through the rest of 1996 and into much of 1997.
Carter's attorney, Norwood Wilner, represents 60 clients with suits against tobacco companies.
Photo: Grady Carter and his wife, Millie, hug Friday aftera jury awarded him $750,000 in a judgment against the maker of Lucky Strike cigarettes.