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Italy: court's expert panel condemns tobacco
  1. Marcello Stalteri1,
  2. Carlo La Vecchia2,
  3. Silvio Garattini3
  1. 1Università di Firenze, 50100 Firenze, Italy
  2. 2Istituto di Statistica Medica e Biometria, Università degli Studi di Milano, 20133 Milano, Italy
  3. 3Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche “Mario Negri”, 20157 Milano, Italy

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    Stalteri vs. Monopoli di Stato is the first tobacco product liability case filed in Italy (in 1994) and the second one in Europe. On 13 March 2002 a panel ad hoc appointed by the Civil Court of Appeal in Rome released its expert witness opinion on specific causation, concerning the case of the late Mario Stalteri, a pack-a-day smoker who quit smoking in 1987, four years before the manufacturer issued the current version of warnings. Given the circumstances—occupation (teacher), genetic background, living conditions—the panel concluded that the disease was at least 80% attributable to smoking.

    Building on the traditional approach to toxic torts, the panel tried to find the fingerprint of carcinogens of tobacco smoke. According to the best forensic evidence, these can now be found in the genes of the victim, contained in the victim's cells collected and preserved at the time of hospital administration. More specifically, recent scientific literature suggests that there are different genetic mutations of p53 and K-ras genes in smokers, vis-à-vis non-smokers. This might have interesting implications in the field of mass torts, tobacco as well as non-tobacco related.

    The most frequent mutation affecting smokers or former smokers concerns codons 12 and 13 of K-ras, with the first nucleotides of codon 12 mostly affected (65%) in smokers who develop adenocarcinoma to the lung. That mutation was found in the case of the late Mario Stalteri. The three person expert panel concluded therefore that “a serious and reasonable criterion of probabilistic evidence confirms that smoking has been a sufficient and adequate causation of the specific cancer”.

    The next procedural step will be the decree by which the Court of Appeal will accept or reject the evidence submitted by the panel. In the Italian legal system the latter event is rare.