Spring Hill former smoker suing big tobacco

66-year old John Rizzuto has severe emphysema

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. - John Rizzuto admits he was a heavy smoker-- one to two packs a day.

"Um, excuse me," said Rizzuto taking a drink of water on the stand during his testimony.

Wednesday the former letter carrier told a jury in a Brooksville courtroom in his gravelly voice that big tobacco is to blame for his addiction.

"I'm a person of faith. I believe in the hereafter. I'm not afraid to die but what I am afraid of is to die slowly," he said.

A smoker since he was 13-years-old in Queens, Rizzuto now suffers from severe emphysema, which is a potentially life-threatening condition. He told a jury his condition prevents him from doing what he loves most in life.

"Because of your emphysema and the fact that it's now progressed to severe emphysema have you been prevented from getting involved in baseball with your grandkids or another capacity?" his attorney asked.

"No, I can't do that anymore," he replied.

Philip Morris attorneys say he's sick simply because he chose to put those cigarettes in his mouth and smoke them -- even when health warning labels showed-up in 1966.

"At the time that this warning label appeared on cigarettes, that same year, I think you told us you graduated from high school, right?" said Philip Morris Attorney William Geraghty.

"Yes," Rizzuto replied.

"You would have been about 18-years old when this warning label went on cigarettes?" Geraghty asked.

Rizzuto filed suit against Philip Morris and the Ligget group in 2007. A 1994 class action lawsuit and settlement paved the way for his case.

Though the Florida Supreme Court stopped a settlement, it gave individuals like Rizzuto a shot at suing big tobacco independently even though he quit smoking 13 years ago.

"I always get short of  breath, yeah," he told jurors on the stand.

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