Archive for the ‘Tobacco’ Category
Tuesday, May 24th, 2016
On May 23, 2016, the widow and children of baseball great Tony Gwynn filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Altria Group alleging that the manufacturers of Skoal smokeless tobacco’s negligence, fraud, defective design, and failure-to-warn caused the death of the Hall of Famer in 2014.
Richard Daynard, PHAI’s president and University Distinguished Professor of Law at Northeastern University, discussed the case in the New York Times and also on ESPN along with Neil Romano of the National Spit Tobacco Education project.
Friday, May 13th, 2016
By Edward L. Sweda, Jr.
When Reynolds American International (RAI) President and CEO Susan M. Cameron told the company’s 2016 annual shareholders meeting that it is “always a pleasure to report good news,” this shareholder was reminded of a similar message: “Alive with Pleasure.” That ubiquitous advertising slogan for Newport cigarettes – which RAI acquired
in 2015 when it purchased Lorillard Tobacco Company – emphasized the short-term, pleasurable qualities of the deadliest consumer product while ignoring the long-term consequences of using that product.
Ms. Cameron listed the examples of “good news” from 2015: shareholder return of 49%; an increase of 7.5% in dividends; a 2 for 1 stock split. Integration with the Newport brand has “done well,” she said. Vuse, RAI’s leading brand of “digital vapor cigarettes”, was the most successful new product in convenience stores.
There was no mention of the enormity of cigarettes’ 2015 death toll during the course of the 80-minute shareholders meeting. Nor was there any mention of litigation against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. until Agenda Item #10, the Question & Answer session. My question to RAI Chairman of the Board Thomas C. Wajnert was as follows:
“Just within the past two months, the following developments have occurred:
“On March 17, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in the Soffer case that the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer can seek punitive damages against RJR on strict liability and negligence claims.
“On March 24, the Florida Supreme Court in the Ciccone case ruled that a smoker did not need an official diagnosis before the cutoff date for membership in the original Engle class.
“On April 21 and 22, a Florida jury returned verdicts in the Turner case totaling $13 million for the children of a heavy smoker who died of lung cancer, finding that RJR hid the dangers of cigarettes from her until she was hopelessly addicted.
“And just last week, on April 25, the Connecticut Supreme Court in the Izzarelli case ruled that the “good tobacco” language of the Restatement 2nd of Torts does not shield tobacco companies from product liability lawsuits.(see news coverage) This is similar to a ruling in Massachusetts.
“Why shouldn’t RAI shareholders and investors be very concerned about these negative litigation developments for the company?”
For a response, Mr. Wajnert turned to Mark Holton, RAI’s executive vice president, and general counsel. While acknowledging the litigation developments I had just cited, Mr. Holton advised that shareholders and investors should consider the company’s overal
l litigation strategy, that has been used for many years, rather than a string of setbacks that had occurred since mid-March. He also mentioned that there had been some recent defense verdicts during that time span and, as to the Izzarelli case, he noted that RJR still had other legal grounds for its appeal of the jury’s $28 million verdict. On that case, Mr. Horton congratulated me on the ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court and noted that I had submitted an amicus curiae brief for the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) on behalf of Ms. Izzarelli.
The day before the RAI Annual Shareholders Meeting, the Associated Press reported that several growers who sell tobacco to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. had children under the age of 13 working in their fields, despite RAI’s pledge to prohibit the hiring of children of that age. A news release by the Farmworkers Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) commented that the “presence of child labor, which the company has denied for years, confirms what the farmworkers’ union, FLOC, has been telling the company since 2007: the tobacco industry is guilty of turning a blind eye to child labor, dangerous working conditions, and many other abuses for far too long.” That news was consistent with the findings of a December 2015 report by Human Rights Watch, entitled, “Teens of the Tobacco Fields: Child Labor in Unites States Tobacco Farming.”
During the question & answer session, several speakers raised the issue of working conditions for farm workers. Hillary Laslo, a FLOC member from Toledo, OH, spoke of abusive conditions on the farm and the fear of retaliation. Julie Taylor, the ex-Director of the National Farm Worker Ministry, visited farm labor camps and saw “terrible housing” conditions. A 20-year-old FLOC member described many problems working in the fields, including not getting necessary breaks while working in the fields, especially on brutally hot days.
Fred Romero, a 14-year-old high school freshman who had worked in the fields for the last 2 to 3 years, described how he had gotten ripped off, being paid even less than the $7.25 per hour minimum wage. He noted how his mother struggles hard to pay the family’s bills; he asked Mr. Wajnert whether RAI will sign an agreement to get a livable wage paid for those who work on farms that provide the tobacco for RAI. Mr. Wajnert answered that the company would not do so.
After the meeting concluded at 10:20 A.M., more than 100 FLOC supported demonstrated in the rain against RAI for its refusal to do more to improve working conditions for farm workers and to end child labor in tobacco fields.
Just a week after the meeting, RAI suffered yet another courtroom loss when a Florida jury in the Dion case returned a $12 million verdict to the widower of a woman who died of lung cancer after smoking for decades.
Tuesday, January 19th, 2016
The Public Health Advocacy Institute submitted comments to a proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) to make its public housing smoke-free. The proposed rule would affect 1.1 million households, but leave 3.4 million other HUD-funded households unprotected. These include the agency’s tenant-based and project-based rental assistance.
PHAI argues that there is are several ways that HUD could expand the proposed protections:
- HUD maintains significant control over the development and operation of many mix financed properties, in part, through the Housing Assistance Payment Contracts. HUD has a legal right to change these contracts during the renewal process. Going smoke-free could simply become part of the eligibility requirements, for example, under the all HAP contract renewals going forward. Just like it currently prohibits marijuana use in all the housing it finances, HUD could require a smoke-free environment, too.
- There is widespread support for smoke-free policies among owners and property management companies of mix-financed, affordable properties. In Massachusetts, some of the leading management companies of mixed financed affordable properties have made many, and in some cases all, of their properties smoke-free. Examples include Beacon Communities, Peabody Properties, and Corcoran Management.
- Surveys show that residents who are eligible for affordable housing prefer a smoke-free building, despite the high smoking rates in affordable housing.
- Smoke-free rules reduce maintenance costs, which would benefit the private owners and funders of affordable housing.
- The health and safety risk to residents exposed to drifting secondhand smoke is the same regardless of whether the resident lives in public housing or another type of affordable housing.
- Requiring smoke-free buildings for the use of tenant-based assistance would cause approximately 700,000 landlords to go smoke-free. This change would benefit all residents living at these properties, not just the voucher holders.
Download our comments here.
PHAI operates the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s Smokefree Housing Program as well as the Public Health and Tobacco Policy Center, which provides services, including smoke-free housing legal and policy technical assistance, to entities funded by the New York State Bureau of Tobacco Control.
Monday, September 21st, 2015
In March, the non-profit Public Health Advocacy Institute (“PHAI”) announced that it had formed a center to bring important public health litigation, and had hired a former Assistant Attorney General to oversee this litigation in the Massachusetts courts. Today, PHAI, which is based at Northeastern University, announced the filing of its latest suit, and also the formation of a strategic alliance with a group of prominent Boston lawyers to pursue important public health cases, including cases against the tobacco industry on behalf of the families of former smokers who have suffered devastating disease from cigarettes.
“We are so pleased to be working with this outstanding group of lawyers to help some of tobacco’s victims in Massachusetts,” said Andrew Rainer, PHAI’s Litigation Director and Director of the Center for Public Health Litigation. Working together with PHAI will be:
- Lisa Arrowood, Kevin Peters and Jed DeWick of Arrowood Peters, LLP
- Sam Perkins of Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, LLP
- Neil Leifer, of Neil T. Leifer, LLC
- Leo Boyle, Michael Bogdanow and Valerie Yarashus of Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow, PC
PHAI’s latest suit, filed today in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn together with Perkins and Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, LLC, is brought on behalf of Linda Troupe and her husband Carleton against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Donelan’s Supermarkets, Inc. of Littleton, Massachusetts. Mrs. Troupe, who smoked Winston and Kool cigarettes for over 35 years, was diagnosed in 2013 with throat cancer. The suit alleges that, in order to treat Mrs. Troupe’s cancer, doctors had to remove her larynx, and she has lost most of her ability to speak with her four children and eleven grandchildren.
Arrowood, Peters, DeWick and Leifer will be working with PHAI on two cases previously filed in the Middlesex Court — the first brought for the family of James Flavin, Jr., a former executive of Filene’s and Staples, who died of lung cancer in 2012 after smoking Newport cigarettes for over 40 years, and the second brought for Patricia Greene, a Newton realtor, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, even though she had stopped smoking Marlboro cigarettes 25 years earlier.
Arrowood is the current President of the Boston Bar Association, and a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Perkins is a founding partner of Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, and a previous Lawyer of the Year. Leifer, a former partner of Thornton & Naumes (now the Thornton firm), represented the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in its successful litigation against the tobacco industry to recover the health care costs incurred by the state in caring for residents harmed by smoking. Boyle and Yarashus are past Presidents of the Massachusetts Bar Association. Boyle also served as President of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (now the American Association for Justice), and is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
R.J. Reynolds’ Shareholder’s Report from Winston-Salem: A “Good Year,” a Proposal to Merge and a Death Toll that Must Not Be Acknowledged
Monday, May 18th, 2015
By Edward L. Sweda, Jr.
Like clockwork, the 2015 Reynolds American (RAI) Annual Shareholders Meeting started precisely at 9:00 A.M. on Thursday May 7, 2015 at the company’s headquarters in Winston-Salem, North
Carolina. Seventy-five minutes later, the meeting was adjourned.
Before I could attend the meeting, I had to proceed through intense security, with machines provided by Security Detection, empty my pockets and hand over my camera to the RAI staff.
The meeting was held again in the company’s main auditorium that seats around 200 people. On the dais were the following representatives of RAI management: Thomas C. Wajnert, the Non-Executive Chairman of the Board, who ran the meeting; Dara Folan, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel and Secretary; Mark Holton, Executive Vice President and General Counsel; Andrew Gilchrist, the Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President; and Susan M. Cameron, RAI’s President and Chief Executive Officer. After announcing the rules of conduct for the meeting and potential penalty for violation of the rules, Mr. Wajnert turned to Ms. Cameron for an overview of the company’s business performance for 2014. Curiously, Ms. Cameron began by noting that 2014, while being a “good year” for RAI, “seems a long time ago.” She cited some specifics of RAI’s 2014 performance, including Camel’s high market share and VUSE’s “successful national expansion.” She described RAI’s plans to acquire Lorillard Tobacco Company as the “Right Decision at the Right Time” that is still awaiting regulatory approval by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. She also called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to adopt different regulations for e-cigarettes than for combustible cigarettes. Ms. Cameron made no mention of any of the company’s customers who died during 2014 from smoking-caused diseases.
Much of the remainder of the meeting dealt with farm labor issues. Many members of FLOC (the Farm Labor Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO) were in the audience; they dominated the 30-minute question-and-answer session. While Mr. Wajnert admitted that “bad conditions exist” on tobacco farms in North Carolina, he claimed that “we are working with our growers” to try to remedy those conditions. FLOC representatives cited ongoing violations of child labor laws in the tobacco fields and emphasized that many of the farm workers were doing extremely hard and dangerous work for a minimum wage salary of $7.25 per hour. Another major grievance was the fact that RAI, despite its claims of transparency, continues to refuse to provide FLOC with a list of tobacco growers with which RAI has contracts to provide it the tobacco for its cigarettes.
During the question-and-answer session, I asked the following question on ongoing tobacco litigation.
“During last month’s RAI First Quarter Earnings Conference Call, Chief Financial Officer and Executive VP Andrew Gilchrist said that ‘a significant portion of our legal budget at this point is being spent on Engle.’ The Engle verdicts in Florida keep on coming. Just last week, a Florida jury returned a verdict of over $6 million for a plaintiff. Meanwhile the Boston Globe last month reported on an upsurge in tobacco product liability lawsuits being filed in Massachusetts – an upsurge that was spurred on by a recent state supreme court ruling that is favorable to plaintiffs.
“I have a two-part question. Would you clarify that when Mr. Gilchrist or other executives refer to the company’s legal budget, that it includes not just salaries of company lawyers and payments to local counsel but also the payment of judgments in cases where plaintiff verdicts have survived all appeals?
“Secondly, instead of using broad adjectives like ‘significant,’ would you give shareholders the specific dollar amount of the company’s legal budget and a breakdown by category of cases?”
In response, Mr. Holton said that the amount paid in judgments is not included in the “legal budget” category. He also said that the company provides overall amounts for the legal budget, though not broken down by category of cases, to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Two shareholder resolutions were defeated. The first, supported by the North Carolina AFL-CIO, called on RAI’s Board of Directors to prepare a report “on the steps the Company has taken to reduce the risk of acute nicotine poisoning (‘Green Tobacco Sickness’) for farmworkers in the Company’s supply chain for tobacco. The report should include a quantitative summary of the results of the Company’s inspections of its suppliers.” The supporters of the resolution noted that children “who are under age 18 work as tobacco farmworkers in the United States and are exposed to Green Tobacco Sickness as an occupational risk. A 2014 Human Rights Watch report described symptoms of Green Tobacco Sickness in nearly three-quarters of 141 child tobacco workers, ages 7 to 17, who were interviewed and worked in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia in 2012 or 2013.”
The second resolution, which dealt with issue of forced labor in tobacco fields, was sponsored by the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Specifically, the proposal noted that, “with U.S. immigration reform stymied, undocumented workers (often the main workforce in many agricultural areas) can be exploited. In their country of origin they often must pay contract labor brokers thousands of dollars to cross our borders; once here, they often are under the control of other labor contractors in order to work on U.S. farms. This practice results in forms of forced and compulsory labor on many, if not most, U.S. farms, including tobacco farms.”
The proposal called on RAI’s Board of Directors to “create a policy that all its suppliers throughout its tobacco procurement supply chain verify (with independent monitoring) their commitment and compliance regarding non-employment, directly or indirectly, of laborers who have had to pay to cross the U.S. border to work or, once here, to work on U.S. farms.”
Father Michael Crosby presented the proposal and noted that currently RAI is financially benefitting from forced labor. That is a fundamental moral issue that must be addressed, he added.
In seconding this resolution, I noted that RAI’s opposition statement that the issue of forced labor is “an issue that should be addressed in a comprehensive manner as part of immigration reforms and policies at the national level” was technically true but amounted to an excuse to pass the buck since there is no likelihood that the current Congress will allow a comprehensive immigration reform bill to be voted upon, given the track record of the House majority in the last Congress.
So, in this regard as in so many other aspects of Reynolds American’s business, the status quo continues.
Friday, May 1st, 2015
On April 23, 2015, the Public Health Advocacy Institute submitted the following written comments concerning proposed regulations for electronic cigarettes issued by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey:
April 23, 2015
Amber Villa, Assistant Attorney General
Consumer Protection Division
Office of the Attorney General
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108
Re: Massachusetts Attorney General Proposed Regulations of E-Cigarettes Retail Sales
Dear Assistant Attorney General Villa:
On behalf of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law (PHAI), I am writing in response to Attorney General Maura Healey’s
request for comment on the proposed regulation of e-cigarettes sales. We at PHAI are dedicated to protecting and improving public health through law and legal policy. We enthusiastically support the proposed regulations to reduce youth access to e-cigarettes.
The three-fold increase in e-cigarette use among middle and high school age youth from 2011 to 2013 demands a response.  Now a quarter of all high school age children and eight percent of middle school age children use e-cigarettes and do so regularly.  We appear to be watching tobacco become ‘cool again’ among youth, and this time it is e-cigarettes.
This alarming trend sadly is not surprising. E-cigarette advertisements appear everywhere, promoting brands like Blu, which suddenly have become as recognizable as Marlboro and Camel. Additionally, candy and other exotic flavored e-cigarettes are contributing to the growing popularity among youth. Tobacco industry documents discovered through litigation tell us that manufacturers used such flavors in the past to target sales at children.  Today, e-cigarette manufacturers may be doing the same thing with flavors like Cotton Candy, Sweet Tart and even Unicorn Puke.  Unicorn Puke is a mash-up of candy flavors.
PHAI applauds Attorney General Healey’s effort to stop the sale of e-cigarettes to children. Although some municipalities already established similar youth access
protections, many have not.  The thousands of retailers in these municipalities can legally sell to children of any age. Unattended vending machines and self-services displays, which lead to youth acquisition of tobacco products, are allowed. Even online retailers do not need to verify a buyer’s age, if the product is delivered anywhere in these cities and towns. Attorney General Healey’s proposed regulation would stop these retail practices.
The leadership shown by Attorney General Healey also challenges others to join her and develop a more comprehensive public health response to e-cigarette use. Our state legislators, state agencies, and public health partners working at the municipal level must also respond in a coordinated and sustained manner. The e-cigarette industry appears to be acting just like tobacco manufacturers did decades ago. Partly, this similarity can be explained by the fact that many cigarette manufacturers also manufacture e-cigarettes.  Another, perhaps more important reason we appear to be reliving the tobacco industry’s past is because we are letting it happen through our own inaction.
Consider just some of the differences in regulatory oversight. E-cigarette advertisements are on television and cable. Other tobacco products are not because it would be illegal. The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, which prohibits the use of cartoons in tobacco advertising and tobacco brand sponsorships at youth oriented events, is not applied to e-cigarettes.  Candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes are prohibited,  but exotic flavored e-cigarettes are heavily promoted and sold in Massachusetts. We tax tobacco products to dissuade use and help pay for tobacco prevention programs.  There is no tax on e-cigarettes. We passed smoke-free workplace laws to protect against secondhand smoke exposure and to de-normalize smoking.  Except for a few municipalities,  no such equivalent protection exists for e-cigarette emissions.
Attorney General Healey takes a strong first step in establishing at least some proportionality in e-cigarette regulation compared to other tobacco products. Although initial research suggests that e-cigarettes are a less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes, scientific research also tells us that e-cigarettes are not safe. Just last week, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden stated that e-cigarettes are not safe, in part, because “research had found that nicotine harms the developing brain.”  In addition to a lifelong addiction to nicotine, exposing the young, developing brain to nicotine acts as a ‘gateway’ to other drug addictions. 
Additionally, e-cigarettes emit other constituents that should raise concerns for the public’s health. Monitoring of e-cigarette emissions has found varying levels of toxins and carcinogens in different brands and product types.  The range is broad. Some brands emit trace amounts of carcinogens, while other e-cigarette products, like refillable tank systems for example, can produce levels of formaldehyde comparable to combusted tobacco products.  Currently, there is no regulation of liquid or gel solution in e-cigarettes or how they are vaporized. Put simply, e-cigarettes are not a cessation product designed to end the harm caused by tobacco use or nicotine addiction.
PHAI would recommend one technical change in the proposed regulation. The regulations should not set “18 years of age” as the minimum sales age. Instead, the proposed regulations should use the minimum sales age set by the Legislature. Currently, that age is 18, but proposed state legislation would raise it to 21.  Several municipalities have already taken this step. 
Christopher Banthin, Esq.,
1 Intentions to Smoke Cigarettes among Never-Smoking U.S. Middle and High School Electronic Cigarette Users, National Youth Tobacco Survey, 2011-13, Nicotine & Tobacco Research, April 2015.
3 United States v. Phillip Morris, Inc., RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., 449 F.Supp.2d 1 (D.D.C. 2006).
4 Sabrina Tavernise, Use of E-Cigarettes Rises Sharply Among Teenagers Report Says, New York Times, April 17, 2015.
5 Donald Wilson, Municipal Tobacco Control Technical Assistance Program, Mass Municipal Ass’n (March 2015).
6 Big Tobacco Companies are Putting Big Warning Labels on Their E-Cigarettes, Washington Post, Sept. 29, 2014.
7 http://www.naag.org/naag/about_naag/naag-center-for-tobacco-and-public-health.php, visited on April 19, 2015.
8 21 U.S.C. § 387g.
9 Mass Gen Law. Ch 64C.
10 Mass. Gen Law. Ch. 270, Sec. 22.
11 Donald Wilson, Municipal Tobacco Control Technical Assistance Program, Mass Municipal Ass’n (March 2015).
12 Tavernise, supra, n. 4.
13 Eric Kandel, et al., A Molecular Basis for Nicotine as a Gateway Drug, New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 371, Pp. 932-41 (2014).
14 US Food and Drug Administration. Final Report on FDA Analyses, May 4, 2009, available at http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/ScienceResearch/UCM173250.pdf
15 Matt Richtel, Some E-Cigarettes Deliver a Puff of Carcinogens, New York Times, May 3, 2014.
16 House Bill 2021, An Act Further Regulating the Sale of Tobacco Products to Teenagers, 189 General Court 2015.
17 Wilson, supra, n. 5.
Thursday, March 26th, 2015
For Immediate Release
Contact: Mark Gottlieb – 617-373-2026
The Public Health Advocacy Institute (“PHAI”) announced today that its newly formed Center for Public Health Litigation has filed lawsuits against two major tobacco companies and several local distributors on behalf of the families of two former smokers who suffered devastating disease from smoking cigarettes.
“This is the first time a non-profit organization has directly taken on the tobacco industry in court,” said Richard Daynard, University Distinguished Professor at Northeastern University School of Law and the President of PHAI. “Big Tobacco kills more than 50% of the people who buy its products, and it has for years tried to deny its legal responsibility for this public health calamity. The Center for Public Health Litigation is going to ask the Massachusetts courts to hold the tobacco companies accountable in these two cases, and in more cases to be filed soon.”
The two cases were filed yesterday afternoon in the Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn. The first was brought for the family of James E. Flavin, Jr., a former executive of Filene’s and Staples, who died of lung cancer in 2012 after smoking Newport cigarettes for over 40 years. Mr. Flavin had tried repeatedly to quit smoking, using almost every method he could find, including
nicotine patches, hypnosis, and numerous other cessation products. The companies named as defendants in Mr. Flavin’s case are Lorillard Tobacco Company, manufacturer of Newport cigarettes, and two local distributors, Garber Bros, Inc. of Stoughton and Albert H. Notini & Sons, Inc. of Lowell.
The second case was brought for Patricia Greene, a Newton realtor, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, even though she had stopped smoking 25 years earlier. Ms. Greene, like many others, had begun smoking as a result of being given free Marlboro cigarettes in downtown Boston when she was a teenager. The companies named as defendants in Ms. Greene’s case are Philip Morris USA, Inc., manufacturer of Marlboro, and Star Markets Company, Inc. of West Bridgewater, owner of the store where Ms. Greene bought her cigarettes for years.
According to Andrew Rainer, the Director of the Center for Public Health Litigation, “Massachusetts is now the best state in the country in which to bring suit against the manufacturers and sellers of cigarettes, because of a 2013 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.” In that 2013 case, Evans v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., the Court ruled that a manufacturer of cigarettes could be held responsible for the death of one of its customers, because it could have manufactured a cigarette that was safer and less addictive, but chose not to. The high Court’s decision also upheld an award of damages to the deceased customer’s family of $35 million plus interest. The case was later settled for $79 million.
Friday, October 31st, 2014
On October 30, 2014 at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI), in association with the Boston Alliance for Community Health (BACH), hosted a forum focusing on common tactics and strategies of two predatory industries: tobacco and casino gambling. It featured Northeastern University Distinguished Professor Richard Daynard, David Aronstein, Director of BACH, and PHAI’s Executive Director Mark Gottlieb. The featured speaker was PHAI’s Senior Staff Attorney Lissy Friedman, who presented powerful evidence demonstrating eerie similarities between the two industries.
The forum was especially timely in Massachusetts as voters there are about to weigh in on a first-in-the-nation ballot initiative to repeal the legalization of casinos in the state.
The proceedings were recorded and are presented here:
Friday, October 10th, 2014
The Center for Public Health Litigation, a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law, has launched an advertising campaign in Massachusetts to help inform victims of cigarette companies of their legal rights. While Massachusetts is the best state in the nation to hold cigarette makers responsible in court for the decades of damage they have done after two landmark rulings from the state’s highest court, few Massachusetts victims realize that they are in a position to find some measure of justice in the courtroom.
The Center for Public Health Litigation seeks to inform victims of their rights and, where possible, provide or find legal representation to hold the industry liable. The ad, reproduced below, will appear in newspapers and other media over the next several weeks. It makes references to the $79 million payment by Lorillard Tobacco Company to the family of lung cancer victim Marie Evans.
Unlike other advertising by trial lawyers, this is an effort by a non-profit public health-committed organization. It is one of several public health legal initiatives being undertaken by PHAI’s new Center for Public Health Litigation.
Thursday, September 25th, 2014
On September 16, 2014, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida returned a verdict of $27,010,000.14 against Philip Morris USA on behalf of Judith Berger, who started smoking in 1958 at the age of 14. Clearly outraged by evidence of Philip Morris’ conduct in targeting children, the jury awarded over $20 million in punitive damages and added fourteen cents to the total. Judith Berger, as did her now-deceased twin sister, developed severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from smoking.
Kenny Byrd, the lead trial counsel for Lieff Cabraser, which represented the plaintiff, was delighted with the verdict. “We are pleased that the jury held Philip Morris accountable for their calculated choice to target children, such as Mrs. Berger, to take up smoking. The addition of the 14 cents is just as meaningful as the $20 million before it. The jury understood our society should protect 14-year-olds, not target them for profits as the cigarette industry does.”
One of the pieces of evidence presented to the jury was a Philip Morris memo that said “today’s teenager is tomorrow’s regular customer.”
This case in federal court is one of thousands of “Engle Progeny” lawsuits that were filed following the Supreme Court of Florida’s 2006 ruling in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006). The trials in these lawsuits, which began in February 2009, have resulted in plaintiff verdicts in approximately two-thirds of the 120 such trials that have reached a jury verdict. While most of these cases are being tried it state court, it is encouraging to see plaintiff victories occurring in federal court as well.
Not surprisingly, Philip Morris relied on its well-worn “personal responsibility” defense as its main attempt to evade accountability. Plaintiff co-counsel Lance Oliver of Motley Rice LLC, commented that, at trial, “Philip Morris attempted to lay all the blame on Mrs. Berger for choices she made as a kid. Thankfully, the jury saw through this and held Philip Morris accountable for its choices.”
When juries learn the details of outrageous tobacco industry behavior, the end result will be more verdicts – including punitive damages – comparable in size and scope as the one in this case. After the verdict, Mrs. Berger reacted as follows: “I am so grateful that the jury held Philip Morris accountable for its actions over the past 60 years. Before this lawsuit, I had no idea that the tobacco industry deliberately designed cigarettes to make them addictive and then conspired to lie to the public about their deadly effects. I fought this battle in part for my twin sister Josephine – may she rest in peace – who died from the same disease that will take my life in the next few years. I encourage anyone whose rights are violated by Philip Morris – or any corporation – to stand up, fight for justice and hold them accountable for their actions.”
Achieving justice and holding powerful corporations accountable for their wrongdoing: that’s what the Engle Progeny litigation is all about.