With his broad shoulders and rugged good looks, Alan Landers was the perfect choice to be the face of America’s best selling cigarette brand. As the Winston man, he appeared in hundreds of magazine and billboard advertisements in the 1960s and 1970s, portraying smoking as stylish and attractive.

Now, as he battles late stage throat and lung cancer and with his voice reduced to a hoarse whisper, Landers, 68, is suing his former employers in a multimillion dollar lawsuit, claiming their products destroyed his health.

“They created the illusion that smoking was cool but they knew when I was doing the campaign that it caused lung cancer and that it was the most addictive drug the world has ever known,” said Landers, who endures daily radiation therapy near his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “They should be held accountable for killing people.”

Landers’s lawsuit against RJ Reynolds, the maker of Winston cigarettes, stems from a decision by Florida’s supreme court three years ago to deny a class action lawsuit by 700,000 sick smokers and overturn a $145bn (f101bn) penalty against the tobacco industry, then the biggest US civil award.

The trial, which will open in April, is among the first of about 9,000 cases by smokers given leave to file an individual claim. Damages could run into tens of millions of dollars.

Last week a jury in Fort Lauderdale held Philip Morris USA, the country’s largest tobacco company, liable for the 1997 death from lung cancer of lifelong smoker Stuart Hess in the first of the trials. Compensation is still being assessed.

After he was diagnosed in 1987, Landers became a spokesman for the World Health Organisation and teamed up with Wayne McLaren, the one time face of Marlboro cigarettes, as anti smoking campaigners. Two other former Marlboro men, Dick Hammer and David McLean, died of lung cancer.

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