Cigarette Tobacco Lawsuit
On January 26th, a Washington district court rejected the plea by tobacco majors, including Marlboro maker Philip Morris USA, to delay its verdict on placing graphic warning labels on cigarette packets. The 12-year-old lawsuit accuses the biggest US cigarette manufacturers of having concealed the risks associated with smoking for decades.
Judge Gladys Kessler has already ruled that the tobacco industry must pay for print and electronic ads informing people about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. However, her verdict regarding subject, design, placement, and duration of graphic warning labels on cigarette packets has yet to come. Executives and attorneys for big tobacco companies had requested that the court delay the judgment in view of pending litigation's over corrective label statements and marketing restrictions proposed by the United States government under federal tobacco regulations.
The Justice Department opposed the plea on grounds of postponing the verdict would result in failure to inform potential smokers and the youth about the risks of smoking. Regardless of the large number of Tobacco lawsuits filed after short and long term smokers developed lung cancer and many have died as a result of the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to impose warnings and label changes on packaging of tobacco products and restrict advertisements with the objective to discourage their uses and inform users of health hazards caused by smoking.
While the FDA wants cigarette packaging to carry images showing smoking pitfalls, the Justice Department wants the tobacco companies to fund corrective print and electronic advertisement campaigns. These ads showcasing nicotine addictiveness, dangers posed by passive smoking, and potential health hazards of "low tar," "ultra-light" and "mild" cigarettes are planned as self-criticism of tobacco companies for misleading people about health risks associated with their products. In another jolt to cigarette manufacturers, the first tobacco lawsuit of 2012 resulted in a court verdict, asking RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris to pay $2.5 million to the wife of a smoker who died as a result of lung cancer.
Tobacco Lawsuits : Why Companies Are Forced To Pay for Ads?
The primary aim of tobacco lawsuits filed by individual plaintiffs and government agencies is to hold cigarette manufacturers accountable for smoking-related wrongful deaths, health hazards, and medical expenses. Smoking has been linked to cancers, lung and heart problems, and a number of preventable diseases. Government officials blame smoking-related illness for a substantial increase in the cost of public health care. Tobacco costs the U.S. economy about $193 billion annually – $96 billion expenditure on direct health care and another $97 billion caused by lost productivity. Tobacco causes more than 440,000 deaths, including about 49,000 deaths caused by passive smoking, every year in the United States. Its consumption also accounts for about 90 percent of men and 80 percent of women dying from lung cancer each year. People who smoke are likely to be diagnosed with oral, throat, stomach, pancreas, and bladder cancer. Emphysema, bronchitis, chronic obstructive lung disease, and acute myeloid leukemia in patients are also the result of regular smoking. Research studies have shown that tobacco use increases the risk of heart diseases by six times. About 21 percent of the adult citizens and 20 percent of school students, who regularly smoke, are at the danger of these health problems.
Tobacco companies in the United States have been accused of promoting their products through advertisements despite proven health hazards of their products. They spend about $10.5 billion annually on marketing, which has been under scrutiny for false claims on nicotine addictiveness, benefits of mild and ultra-light cigarettes, and suppression of facts regarding cancer, heart problem, and lung disease risk for smokers. A number of tobacco lawsuits filed by individuals and government officials have sought punitive damages against cigarette marketing practices. Consumer groups and health research reports are highly critical of cigarette advertising and claim that such ads encourage non-smokers to start smoking. According to research studies and surveys, kids and youth are three times more likely attracted by tobacco advertising, which is also responsible for almost half of the underage smoking experimentation.
The cigarette companies for long have been promoting their products without disclosing material facts about the health effects on smokers. The government now wants the cigarette industry to pay a part of their profits to fund ads and campaigns to warn people about dangers of tobacco consumption and help limit sales and reduce the number of smokers in the country. The Tobacco Control Act makes it mandatory to include explicit warnings on labels of tobacco products and ads to discourage smoking.
The courts have also agreed to the contention, establishing liability of tobacco industry for smoking-related health problems in the country, and ordered cigarette manufacturers to pay government for efforts to promote public awareness about smoking hazards, restrict sale of tobacco products to minors, and conduct research on reducing smoking-related risks.
Tobacco Lawsuits Since 1950’s: An Overview
The earliest tobacco lawsuits date back to the early 1950s when British physiologist Richard Doll established that smoking caused an increased risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular problems. Cigarette tobacco lawsuits filed by private individuals until the late 1970s focused on product liability and negligent advertising. The majority of claims were based on the link between smoking and lung cancer and failure of the tobacco companies to warn consumers about the dangers associated with smoking. Tobacco manufacturers successfully fought these lawsuits, arguing that cancer in smokers was not a result of cigarette alone.
Cipollone V. Liggett Cigarette Tobacco Lawsuit
Tobacco lawsuits filed in the 1980s focused on cigarette addiction along with lung cancer claims. The plaintiffs argued that cigarette companies failed to warn consumers about addiction linked to tobacco products. The case of Rose Cipollone, a New Jersey woman who died of lung cancer in 1984, was the most well-known tobacco lawsuit of this period. The smoking lawsuit filed by her 14 months before her death held the famous tobacco brands, Liggett, Philip Morris and Lorillard, liable for her lung cancer. The district court ordered the Liggett Group to pay $400,000 to Cipollone’s family. Though the higher judiciary reversed the award, this product liability lawsuit was a landmark in tobacco litigation. For the first time, a tobacco company was asked to compensate smoking victims. It also highlighted fraudulent claims by low-tar, mild, and light cigarette makers; their unwillingness to inform public about dangers of smoking; and deliberate promotions overshadowing designated health warnings.
Master Settlement Agreement by Tobacco Companies
The number of tobacco lawsuits went up sharply in the mid-1990s when thousands of individuals joined class action initiatives and attorney generals of 40 US states sued cigarette companies for causing health problems that resulted in a significant increase in public health systems. The industry, which was largely successful against individual private lawsuits earlier, failed to fight state lawsuits filed under various provisions of consumer protection and antitrust regulations. In November 1998, the four biggest tobacco companies signed the Master Settlement Agreement with 46 states. They agreed to
stop tobacco promotion and advertisements, particularly those targeting kids and youth
pay annually to fund health-care costs caused by smoking-related illnesses, estimated at $206 billion for 25 years
fund the National Public Education Foundation entrusted with the task to reduce the number of youth smokers and prevent smoking risks
dissolve Tobacco Institute, Tobacco Research Council, andthe Center for Indoor Air Research
Individual Tobacco Lawsuits
In February 2000, a California court awarded a smoker $51.5 million in a lawsuit filed against Philip Morris. It followed three more lawsuits, two in California and one in Oregon, where the tobacco giant was ordered to pay more than $188 million in compensation between 2000 and 2009. In June 2002, a Miami jury gave its verdict in favor of an ex-smoker, seeking $37.5 million in punitive damages against three cigarette manufacturers. The plaintiff lost his tongue due to smoking-related oral cancer. In another case, a Kansas court held R.J. Reynolds liable for its “highly blameworthy” conduct and awarded $15 million to the plaintiff. In 2003, a Madison County circuit court awarded $10.1 billion in a tobacco class action lawsuit against Philip Morris. Though the award was reversed by the higher judiciary in 2006, the class action tobacco lawsuit was revived in March 2011 following a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of the United States in the Altria Vs Stephanie Good case of 2008. A New York jury allowed $20 million claim by the wife of deceased smoker in 2004.
Engle Class Action in Florida
One of the biggest class actions initiated in the history of tobacco litigation, it was filed in May 1994 by Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt, who led a successful class action settlement of $300 million in 1997 on behalf of 60,000 flight attendants, who contacted health problems following exposure to second-hand smoke. Initially, the tobacco lawsuit included Howard Aaron Engle, a pediatrician, and six other Florida smokers, but the number of plaintiffs touched 100,000 when it went into trial in 1998. The lawsuit alleged that cigarette turned smokers into nicotine addicts and the tobacco industry failed to warn consumers about the risk. The Miami circuit court granted $145 billion in compensation in July 2000. This was the biggest-ever amount awarded in punitive damages in the United States.
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the court findings, blaming Big Tobacco for smoking-related health problems, but it decertified the class action lawsuit status. and called for individual tobacco lawsuits and ruled that circuit court findings would apply to these cases.
Subsequently, Engle-progeny plaintiffs filed their individual tobacco lawsuits numbering about 8,000 cases. In 2009, one of the lawsuits resulted in a $300 million award to a former smoker. The Broward County jury ordered Philip Morris USA to pay Cindy Naugle, who suffered from smoking-related emphysema, $56.6 million for her medical expenses and a whopping $244 million as punitive damage. The latest trial of one such tobacco lawsuit resulted in a $2.5 million award to the husband of Claire Hallgren, a deceased smoker, on January 26, 2012.
Light Cigarette Tobacco Lawsuit
In December 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States allowed a class action tobacco lawsuit to proceed, which was filed in Maineagainst the false promotion of light cigarettes as healthier compared to regular cigarettes. Notwithstanding the name “light,” these cigarettes claimed to be low on tar, and nicotine does not offer any relief from smoking-related health problems. The lawsuit has sought to fix the liability for such fraudulent claims by Big Tobacco and punitive damages for consumers. The court rejected preemption arguments put forward by cigarette manufacturers that federal legislation forbids plaintiffs to sue them for deceptive business practices under state laws. In 2006, a Brooklyn district court certified another class-action lawsuit against tobacco companies for misleading consumers about risk associated with light cigarettes. The class action, if approved, will cost the tobacco industry close to $200 billion.
Justice Department Tobacco Lawsuit, 2006
In September 1999, the US Department of Justice sued tobacco companies for violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and civil provisions of various other laws. Federal Judge Gladys Kessler delivered a comprehensive judgment on August 17, 2006. The verdict covering 1,683 pages held cigarette manufacturers guilty of defrauding and misleading consumers for decades about smoking-related risks. The judge also observed that these companies engaged in unlawful practices to increase their revenue by recruiting new smokers irrespective of age and preventing people from giving up smoking, which had a devastating impact on the public health and cost the national health system billions in the past 50 years.
The court agreed with the plaintiff argument that tobacco industry made profits by selling a product with zeal and deception that is highly addictive and causes thousands of deaths each year. It ruled that cigarette companies used money, skill and high-level of sophistication to consistently deny public information about lethal impacts of their products. Judge Kessler suggested the following remedies.
- Ban on making misleading statements or conveying any direct or indirect health messages by tobacco companies on cigarettes and risks associated with them.
- No classification of cigarette, such as low, mild, light, natural, that could mislead users about their impacts.
- Corrective statements, label warnings, and print, electronic, and online advertisements by tobacco companies, informing consumers about health risks caused by cigarettes and confession of providing false information to consumers about smoking-related health problems.
- Publication of internal reports of tobacco companies about health risks associated with their products.
- Report of annual marketing data to the government.
However, the court stopped short of directing cigarette producers to fund smoking prevention and cessation campaigns, though it called for the strongest possible measures to reduce tobacco consumption. The Supreme Court of the United States upheld the judgment in June 2010. In December 2011, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds agreed to contribute $6.25 million to support an online library of internal documents suppressed for long by the tobacco industry. Run by San Francisco-based California University, the repository has more than 13 million documents. The Department of Justice and non-profit groups, such as American Cancer Society, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, and American Lung Association, continue to press Big Tobacco for funding of tobacco prevention programs through lawsuits and political means.
Other Tobacco Cigarette Lawsuits
In March 2011, a California court awarded $1.4 million to a smoker in a tobacco lawsuit filed against Lorillard Tobacco Co. The plaintiff has alleged that presence of asbestos in Lorillard cigarette filters caused him to suffer from mesothelioma. Four days before this verdict, a tobacco class action lawsuit was filed in New Orleans, representing 1,000 Harrah’s Casino employees. It accuses the casino operator of failure to protect its employees from second-hand smoking hazards. In September 2010, Atlantic City-based Tropicana Casino and Resort paid $4.5 million to settle a similar lawsuit.
FDA and Tobacco Control
In June 2009, President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gives the FDA powers to control and regulate the tobacco products and impose restrictions on their marketing. The important provisions of the law include
- establishment of a tobacco control center by the FDA, which has been given authority to regulate marketing of tobacco products
- approval of the FDA is must for sale of any tobacco product
- power to the FDA to change tobacco product labeling
- provision giving the FDA authority to restrict ads that target young smokers and kids
- warning labels and words in capital letters covering half of the front and rear of tobacco packages
- mandatory FDA approval for "light, "mild" or "low" words attached with any tobacco products with the intention to create market impression about it
In September 2010, the FDA prohibited five electronic cigarette manufacturers from promoting their product as an alternative for people trying to give up smoking. It raised objections on the ground that the safety and effectiveness of these e-cigarettes were not established and the lack of quality control during their manufacturing process.
In June 2011, the FDA issued warning letters to 11 online retailers and a number of convenience stores, pubs, and others across throughout the United States for illegally selling tobacco products. The regulator asked these businesses to stop selling cigarettes through unattended vending machines that had no mechanism to deny dispensing of tobacco products to buyers less than 18 years. It also warned retailers against claiming reduced risk associated with smokeless tobacco products or particular type of cigarettes.
On January 23, 2012, the FDA organized a comprehensive review of benefits and risks associated with dissolvable tobacco products. These flavored tobacco candies are promoted by manufacturers as a helpful aid to people want to quit smoking. However, these products have the potential to cause tobacco addiction, nicotine poisoning and become the gateway to smoking for children.