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The state Supreme Court on Wednesday denied tobacco companies' appeals of a San Francisco jury's award of $2.85 million in damages to the family of a woman who died of lung cancer after smoking cigarettes for 26 years.

Leslie Whiteley of Ojai sued Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds before her death in 2000 at age 40.

She testified that she started smoking at 13, using her lunch money to buy cigarettes, and paid little attention to the warning labels because tobacco companies promoted the benefits of smoking and the government allowed the sales. She smoked two packs a day until she was diagnosed with cancer in 1998.

A jury awarded Whiteley and her husband $1.7 million in compensation and $20 million in punitive damages four months before she died. It was the nation's first verdict in favor of a smoker who took up the habit after 1965, when the government first required warnings on cigarette packages.


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