Posts Tagged ‘Tobacco’
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.
Friday, November 22nd, 2013
On July 24, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking comments from the public and other stakeholders on the potential regulation of menthol in cigarettes. Gottlieb and Daynard from PHAI submitted comments today on Docket No. FDA-2013-N-0521 calling on the Secretary of Health and Human Services to promulgate regulations to pursuant to her authority under sec. 906 of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to prohibit cigarette manufacturers from selling or distributing cigarettes that are:
a) Branded as a menthol product;
b) Marketed as a successor to a previously marketed menthol product; or
c) Otherwise likely to be perceived as a menthol product or menthol product successor in the marketplace.
The FDA’s staff issued a peer-reviewed comprehensive scientific report as did the agency’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee in 2011. We noted that, “these findings clearly establish an evidence base that justifies regulatory action by the Secretary to stop the harm to public health caused by permitting mentholated cigarettes to remain on the market. To put it simply, the most acute harm appears to be that mentholated cigarettes facilitate smoking initiation by youth, frustrate quit attempts by addicted smokers, and include brands that have particularly targeted African Americans in a way that amplifies health disparities.”
Despite a years-long process, we are cautiously optimistic that FDA will move forward with regulations such as those we recommend in the near future.
View our comments here.
PHAI researchers co-author article in AJPH describing how health advocates battling the food and beverage industry can learn by looking back at the smoking and health crisis of the late 1950s and early 60s
Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Richard Daynard, Lissy Friedman, and Mark Gottlieb have co-authored an article published today in the American Journal of Public Health, along with our research partners from Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG). The article is entitled: “Cigarettes Become a Dangerous Product: Tobacco in the Rearview Mirror, 1952–1965.”
BMSG’s press release appears below:
Nutrition advocates may be able to use lessons from tobacco control to help government move faster toward protecting the public from harmful food and beverage company products and marketing practices, say the authors of a new study published today by the American Journal of Public Health.
In a content analysis of public and internal documents, the authors, from Berkeley Media Studies Group and the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law, examined national newspapers, tobacco industry documents and the Congressional Record and Congressional Index between 1952 and 1965 to learn how health harms from cigarettes were framed in the early days of anti-tobacco advocacy.
The study found that news coverage of tobacco focused primarily on its health harms — not who was responsible for addressing them. Much as nutrition advocates often see headlines today about sugary drinks, junk food or other products that fuel disease, pre-1965 conversations about cigarettes were typically disconnected from the industry that produced them.
As such, the personal responsibility rhetoric the tobacco industry became known for in the 1980s and beyond — rhetoric that food and beverage companies have borrowed and are using today to forestall government regulation and shift blame for their products’ health harms onto the consumers who buy them — was all but absent from both news coverage and industry documents. Instead, tobacco companies focused on raising doubts about cigarettes’ links to lung cancer. More than three-quarters of tobacco industry documents denied that cigarettes are harmful to health, with industry spokespeople claiming that the causes of cancer are complex and more research was needed. The industry also discussed cigarettes’ alleged benefits, such as a “feeling of well-being and refreshment.”
What little discussion there was of culpability identified both individuals and industry as sharing blame for the problem and, strikingly given today’s political discourse, called upon government to act.
“The backdrop for early tobacco control was wildly different from today’s political climate,” Lori Dorfman, the study’s lead author and director of the Berkeley Media Studies Group, said. “Profound distrust of the government has made it harder for public health advocates to make the case for protections from harmful products. In the 60s, a belief in government’s duty to act to protect public health was the norm.”
According to the study, government action was contested only in internal industry documents, not public discussion. News coverage and legislative documents questioned not whether the government should act, but how.
Nevertheless, once the dangers of cigarettes were established, actions were individually oriented and related mostly to providing consumers with more education and warnings about smoking’s health harms.
“We now take for granted how effective tobacco taxes and indoor smoking bans are,” study author and Public Health Advocacy Institute Director Mark Gottlieb said. “But moving tobacco control efforts from smoking cessation to industry regulation happened over the long haul.”
The study authors suggest that advocates now pushing for healthier food environments may be able to do the same, shifting attention from unhealthy foods and beverages to the companies that manufacture and market them. However, they will have to do so within a changed, and more challenging, political context.
Article abstract link: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301475
Ciation: Dorfman L, Cheyne A, Gottlieb MA, Mejia P, Nixon L, Friedman LC, Daynard RA. Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print November 14, 2013. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301475.
About Berkeley Media Studies Group
Berkeley Media Studies Group researches the way public health issues are characterized in the media and helps community groups, journalists and advocates use the media to advance healthy public policy. BMSG is a project of the Public Health Institute.
About Public Health Advocacy Institute
The Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) is a legal research center focused on public health law at Northeastern University School of Law. PHAI’s goal is to support and enhance a commitment to public health in individuals and institutes who shape public policy through law. PHAI is committed to research in public health law, public health policy development; to legal technical assistance; and to collaborative work at the intersection of law and public health. Their current areas of work include tobacco control and childhood obesity.
Heather Gehlert, BMSG
(510) 704-3471, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
PHAI has just published a new website consisting of searchable summaries of over 600 secondhand smoke lawsuits based in the United States. The cases stretch back to the 1970s and the data was most recently updated in July, 2013. We will continue to update the site and add new cases as well as indicate developments in existing cases.
The project is the work of our Senior Attorney Edward Sweda, who began compiling “Ed’s List” about 25 years ago. The list has been published in the Tobacco Products Litigation Reporter and used by many tobacco control organizations and individuals seeking legal redress to smoke exposure problems. The project would not have made it to the web but for the efforts of our summer intern, Rebecca Leff, who copied and formatted a 133 page single spaced document to create 628 case entries.
The site is searchable by type of case, e.g., custody disputes, real property, smoking in prisons, or litigation against tobacco companies, as well as the state where the action was filed.
Monday, July 8th, 2013
On February 21, 2011, Lorillard Tobacco Company and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company filed a complaint against the FDA in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the composition of the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (“TPSAC”) and alleging that TPSAC failed to comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (“FACA”). TPSAC was formed immediately following the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (“Tobacco Act”). TPSAC was charged with researching the health effects of menthol in cigarettes and reported to the FDA that mentholated cigarettes adversely affected public health, and that their removal from the market would benefit public health.
In their complaint, the tobacco companies allege that three members of TPSAC have financial and appearance conflicts of interest stemming from their continued service as paid expert witnesses in anti-tobacco litigation, as well as their continued employment for pharmaceutical companies that manufacture smoking-cessation products. The tobacco companies argue that this creates an unbalanced committee representing only one set of viewpoints that are against smokeless tobacco products and menthol in cigarettes.
Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds alleged injuries include disclosure of confidential information to conflicted committee members who could use it to testify for parties adverse to them, that the conflicted members have the ability to shape the TPSAC report to help with their work as expert witnesses, that Lorillard lost 2 billion in shareholder value, and that their procedural right to fair decision making was violated. The companies are seeking declaratory relief that the three committee members violated FACA, as well as an injunction preventing the FDA from receiving or considering any suggestions from TPSAC pending the result of this litigation.
On April 29, 2011, the FDA moved to dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. The FDA argued that the tobacco companies lacked standing to challenge the committee’s composition because their alleged injuries were speculative, not traceable to the FDA, and were unlikely to be redressed by the court.[7 Furthermore, the FDA argued that any conflicts of interest are within FDA discretion and are not subject to judicial review.
On August 1, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the FDA’s motion in its entirety. The court held that Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds pled sufficient injuries and that the conflicts of interest are justiciable by the court. Due to the limited number of viewpoints regarding tobacco issues and the scientific, rather than political, nature of the issues, the court determined they are equipped with sufficient standards against which it can assess the committee’s objectiveness. With the denial of the FDA’s motion to dismiss, the tobacco companies are able to proceed with their suit.
On July 21, 2014, Judge Richard Leon granted Lorillard’s Motion for Summary Judgment to bar the Committee’s menthol report from consideration and orders the agency to reconstitute the Committee. The judge found that the, “the Committee’s findings and recommendations, including reports such as the Menthol Report, are, at a minimum, suspect, and, at worst, untrustworthy.” The FDA has not yet announced whether it would appeal the ruling.
Summary by Katelyn Blaney
Online Copy of Initial Complaint: http://www.hpm.com/pdf/LORILLARD%20Adv%20Cmte%20-%20Complaint.pdf.
 The Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, Menthol Cigarettes and Public Health: Review of the Scientific Evidence and Recommendations, Chapter 8, p. 220 (March, 2011).
 2d Amended Complaint at ¶ 2, Lorillard, Inc. v. U.S. Food & Drug Admin., No. 11-440 (RJL), 2012 WL 3542228 (D.D.C. 2012).
 Id. at ¶ 3.
 Lorillard, Inc v. United States Food & Drug Admin., No. 11-440 (RJL), 2012 WL 3542228, at *2 (D.D.C. 2012).
 Id. at ¶ 4.
 Lorillard, No. 11-440 (RJL), 2012 WL 3542228, at *2 (D.D.C. 2012).
 Id. at *1.
 Id. at *2.
 Id. at *2.
 Lorillard Inc v. United States Food and Drug Administration, Civil Action No. 2011-0440 (D.C. 2014) District Court, District of Columbia.
Monday, July 8th, 2013
In August, 2009, tobacco manufacturers and sellers brought suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky against the FDA, challenging provisions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (“Tobacco Act”). In a case previously known as Commonwealth Brands, Inc v. United States, plaintiffs challenged the following requirements as violations of their First Amendment free speech protections, and sought a preliminary injunction barring the FDA from enforcing them, as well as a judgment declaring the provisions unconstitutional:
Graphic Warning Requirement: Tobacco manufacturers must reserve a portion of tobacco packaging for health warnings and graphic images
- Restrictions on commercial marketing of “modified risk” tobacco products
- Ban of statements that express or imply tobacco products are safer due to FDA regulation
- Ban the distribution of free samples of tobacco products, brand-name tobacco sponsorship of anything non-tobacco related, brand-name merchandising of non-tobacco products, and distribution of free items in consideration of a tobacco purchase (“continuity programs”)
- Tobacco advertisements can only consist of black text on a white background
In Commonwealth Brands, the District Court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the tobacco industry, holding both the color restrictions on their advertisements and the ban on safer product claims due to FDA regulation to be unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the United States for every other challenged provision holding them to be constitutional. Both parties appealed this judgment to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On March 29, 2012 a three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld every contested provision of the Tobacco Act as constitutional, except for the restriction on the colors used in tobacco advertisements and the ban on continuity programs.
Graphic Warning Requirement: In a 2-1 decision, the Court of Appeals held the graphic warning requirement to be constitutional. Arriving at this decision, the court distinguished between the Zauderer and Central Hudson standards of review for infringements on commercial speech, asserting that the former is reserved for disclosure requirements and the latter for prohibitions on speech. The court viewed the graphic warnings as disclosures of factual information about the health risks of tobacco and, as such, evaluated them against Zauderer. The Zauderer standard permits disclosure requirements as an infringement on commercial speech if they are reasonably related to the government’s interest in preventing consumer deception. The court held that the graphic warning requirement was reasonably related to the FDA’s interest in preventing consumers from being mislead about the health risks of tobacco. The court noted the tobacco industry’s history of deceiving consumers about the health risks and addictiveness of tobacco, as well as the ineffectiveness of the current warnings on cigarette packaging, to hold that the graphic warnings are reasonably related to preventing consumer deception.
The Court viewed the remaining provisions of the Act as prohibitions on speech and measured them against the Central Hudson standard. In order for restrictions on commercial speech to pass Central Hudson and be deemed permissible under the First Amendment, the government must assert a substantial interest in limiting the speech and the means by which they limit it must be narrowly tailored, meaning the government must use the least restrictive methods to further their interest.
Restrictions on marketing “modified risk” tobacco products and the ban on implying tobacco product safety due to FDA regulation: Similar to the graphic warning requirement, the Court of Appeals found the government’s interest in preventing the tobacco industry from making fraudulent claims about the health effects of cigarettes to be substantial enough to satisfy the first prong of Central Hudson. Under the Tobacco Act, in order for tobacco companies to market a product as “modified risk,” the FDA must first determine that the product will actually reduce the harm and risk of tobacco-related disease, taking into account first and second-hand smoke. The court found the pre-approval of “modified risk” health claims to be sufficiently narrowly tailored to further the government’s interest in preventing consumer deception. The Court of Appeals also held that the prohibition of claims that a tobacco product is safer, or less harmful, due to FDA regulation is narrowly tailored to prevent consumer deception. The Appellate Court, reversing the District Court on this count, saw this as a narrow infringement on the tobacco industry’s commercial speech that would otherwise mislead consumers into thinking the FDA endorses cigarettes and tobacco related products.
Ban on free samples of tobacco products and the ban on brand-name sponsorship and merchandising for non-tobacco related products: For these provisions of the Tobacco Act, the Court of Appeals found the government’s interest in curbing juvenile tobacco use to be substantial enough to limit the commercial speech of the tobacco industry. The FDA produced considerable evidence showing that these specific marketing techniques reached an overwhelming number of juveniles. Based on this evidence, the Court found the ban on free samples of tobacco products, as well as the ban on any brand-name tobacco sponsorship of anything non-tobacco related, to be narrowly tailored to prevent juvenile tobacco use.
Color restrictions in tobacco advertisements and the ban on continuity programs: Although the court decided that the government’s interest in protecting consumer deception was substantial, the court held that color restrictions of tobacco advertisements were too overbroad to further that interest. The court stated that the government could have chosen less restrictive means to limit deceptive advertising, such as prohibiting specific images or phrases, rather than limiting them to black text on a white background.
Furthermore, the court held that the tobacco industry’s continuity programs, in which companies offer benefits to existing customers, did not narrowly fit the government’s substantial interest of limiting juvenile tobacco use. The Appellate Court, reversing the District Court, relied on evidence which showed that most existing tobacco users are adults, thus, limiting the continuity programs would not have a material effect on curbing juvenile tobacco use.
After the ruling in this case the tobacco industry petitioned for a Writ of Certiorari asking the Supreme Court to review the ruling (American Snuff Co v. United States). The Plaintiff’s Writ of Certiorari was denied on April 22, 2013.
 Discount Tobacco City & Lottery, Inc., Lorillard Tobacco Company, National Tobacco Company, L.P., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Commonwealth Brands, Inc., & American Snuff Company, LLC.
 Copy of Initial Complaint: http://www.fdalawblog.net/files/tobacco-lawsuit-v-fda-august-2009.pdf.
 District Court Decision: http://www.fdalawblog.net/files/commonwealth—dist-ct-sj-decision.pdf.
 Disc. Tobacco City & Lottery, Inc. v. United States, 674 F.3d 509, 518 (6th Cir. 2012).
 Id. at 552.
 Id. at 558.
 Id. at 555.
 Id. at 562-63.
 Id. at 534.
 Id. 534-36.
 Id. at 531.
 Id. at 536-37.
 Id. at 551.
 Id. at 541.
 Id. at 541-43.
 Id. at 548.
 Id. at 544.
Tuesday, June 11th, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Edward L. Sweda, Jr. or Mark Gottlieb
617-373-8462 or 617-373-2026
2010 Verdict Reflected Juror Outrage at Handouts of Free Cigarettes to Children.
The SJC today unanimously rejected Lorillard Tobacco Co.’s attempt to evade liability in a case brought by Willie Evans, whose mother Marie died in 2002 at the age of 54. Testimony at trial reported that while Marie was a child growing up in the Orchard Park housing project in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, she received free samples of Newport cigarettes. Marie, who first received the free samples of Newport cigarettes when she was 9 or 10 years of age, became addicted by the time she was 13, according to lawyers for her son, Willie Evans.
Newport, which is Lorillard’s best-selling brand of cigarettes and contains menthol, has been heavily marketed toward the African-American community, a fact that was highlighted at the 2010 trial.
In today’s ruling the Massachusetts high court upheld the compensatory damages of $35 million but reversed a punitive damages award of $81 and sent the case back for a new trial on the issue of punitive damages. The Court found that the jury was not adequately instructed about the negligence claims pertaining to design and marketing.
However, the key finding was that the Court upheld the jury’s finding that Newport cigarettes were not fit to be sold in Massachusetts (breaching the implied warranty of merchantability).
Lorillard could have and should have sold a safer alternative product that did not addict Ms. Evans and cause her lung cancer. The Court wrote:
We decline to place addictive chemicals outside the reach of product liability and give them special protection akin to immunity based solely on the strength of their addictive qualities. . . . Rather, we conclude that, in determining as a matter of law whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that the plaintiff’s proposed design was a reasonable alternative to the defendant’s product, we must determine whether the design alternative unduly interfered with the performance of the product from the perspective of a rational, informed consumer, whose freedom of choice is not substantially impaired by addiction. Applying that standard to the evidence in this case, we conclude that a reasonable jury could find from the evidence presented that a low tar, low nicotine cigarette constituted a safer reasonable alternative to Lorillard’s Newport cigarettes. (emphasis added)
By “low tar, low nicotine cigarette,” the Court is not referring to brands that were deceptively marketed as “lights.” It means cigarettes that do not addict and expose consumers to an array of carcinogens. As a matter of law in Massachusetts, any cigarette sold that addicts or maintains the nicotine addiction of consumers is defective. That would include just about every cigarette sold in Massachusetts.
Mark Gottlieb, Director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLP), a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) which is based at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, was delighted with today’s ruling: “Florida has been a hotbed of tobacco litigation in recent years because cigarettes there are considered defective as a matter of law for a former class of addicted smokers. About 8,000 cases are awaiting trial in Florida. After today’s ruling, this is now the law in Massachusetts with the important difference that it applies to every plaintiff victim of cigarette industry products. I expect many more cases here to help to address the suffering of victims like Marie Evans who were needlessly addicted in their youth to a deadly product.”
Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for TPLP, added that, “It is high time that Lorillard is forced to pay the Evans family for the suffering caused by its outrageous practice of giving away deadly and addictive Newport cigarettes to children near housing projects. This company’s profiteering for decades on the backs of African Americans must come to an end and today’s ruling is an important step in that process.”
Friday, May 24th, 2013
By Edward L. Sweda, J.D.
In sharp contrast to the manner in which management at Reynolds American, Inc. conducted its annual meeting of shareholders a week earlier, Altria Group, Inc.’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Martin J. Barrington treated everyone at the May 16th meeting in Richmond, Virginia with courtesy and politeness.
Barrington began his presentation by commending the Altria Board of Directors’ “strong leadership and oversight.” He touted “strong results in 2012” and declared that the company’s “main brands did well.” Citing the company’s 9000 employees, Barrington praised the company for being a founding member of the Farm Labor Practices Group, supporting the arts and investing in communities. He admitted that “more needs to be done to discourage youth tobacco use” and, without giving any data showing how the program discourages youth tobacco use, praised Altria’s “We Card” program.
Barrington reported increased market share for Marlboro (in red, green, gold and black) cigarettes and progress for Black & Mild (tipped cigarillos) and the two major smokeless tobacco brands of Skoal and Copenhagen. He informed the audience that the company would introduce NuMark, a brand of e-cigarettes, in the second half of 2013.
Altria’s CEO also assured shareholders that the company’s outlook for 2013 is good; he noted that Altria had increased dividends six separate times since 2008. Also, Altria’s shareholder returns had increased by 84.2% during the span of 2008 to 2012.
On the topic of tobacco litigation, Barrington declared that the company had “success in managing litigation,” mentioned the ongoing Brown case in California dealing with light cigarettes and said that Altria has “strong defenses” as it continues to defend Engle Progeny cases in Florida.
A shareholder resolution, submitted by the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order in Milwaukee, dealt with the issue of disclosure of the company’s lobbying policies and practices. Specifically, it called on the Board of Directors to prepare a report, to be updated annually, for shareholders disclosing the following:
- “Company policy and procedures governing lobbying, both direct and indirect, and Grassroots lobbying communications;
- “Payments by Altria used for (a) direct or indirect lobbying or (b) grassroots lobbying communications, in each case including the amount of the payment and the recipient;
- “Altria’s membership in and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation; and
- “Description of the decision making process and oversight by management and the Board for making payments described in section 2 above.
Fr. Michael Crosby presented the resolution. He stressed that, while Altria has disclosed its payments to political candidates, it has kept largely secret the details about its spending on lobbying and making contributions to third-party organizations such as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. The resolution’s supporting statement pointed out that “Altria spent approximately $21.37 million in 2010 and 2011 on direct federal lobbying activities” but that these figures “do not include lobbying expenditures to influence legislation in states.”
This author then spoke in support of the “modest, pro-transparency resolution” and described the opposition to the resolution by Altria’s management as “short-sighted.” The company had described the reports required by the proposal as imposing “additional and unnecessary burdens and costs on the Company and would not be in the best interests of the Company and its shareholders.”
The results of preliminary voting were reported that the resolution was defeated with supporters garnering 21.82% of the votes cast.
During the question and answer session, to which thirty minutes were allotted, this author noted that Altria had suffered a major setback in mid-March when the Florida Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the way dozens of Engle Progeny trials have been conducted since February 2009 does not violate the tobacco companies’ due process rights. I concluded my observations about this litigation with the question: Why shouldn’t shareholders believe tobacco company attorneys who have warned about “massive liability” with thousands of Engle Progeny cases still in the pipeline with “no end in sight,” rather than believing the optimistic assurances from management?
Barrington’s response was to acknowledge that litigation is a “challenge” and to refer shareholders to the company’s 10-Q report (PDF), which covers litigation in detail.
Fr. Crosby noted that heavy users of cigarettes are often those who are at the lowest rung of the economic ladder. “What steps will Altria Group take to reduce consumption of its tobacco products by the poor?” Rev. Crosby asked. Mr. Barrington simply cited the company’s programs to reduce youth consumption without addressing low-income adult smokers. Even after a follow-up question by Fr. Crosby, Barrington refused to commit any company resources to trying to discourage tobacco consumption among low-income adults.
After the 67-minute meeting had been adjourned, Altria Group, Inc., with its Marlboro brand having increased its market share of cigarettes by two-tenths of a percentage point in the first quarter of 2013, continued to conduct its business as it so usually does. During the course of the meeting, approximately 56 people died in the United States from smoking-caused diseases.
Supreme Court Rejects Key Tobacco Industry Appeal Leaving “Massive Liability . . . with no End in Sight.”
Monday, March 26th, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Edward L. Sweda 617-373-8462
Tobacco companies face the prospect of having to pay billions of dollars in liability to Florida smokers after the U.S. Supreme Court today denied Reynolds American’s petition for certiorari in the case of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Mathilde Martin, No. 11-754.
The company had appealed a $28.3 million judgment against Reynolds for the death of Benny Ray Martin, the husband of Mathilde Martin. Her case is one of thousands of “Engle Progeny” lawsuits in Florida, cases that followed the landmark 2006 ruling by the Florida Supreme court in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006).
Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project (a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute based at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston) was ecstatic to learn of the denial of Reynolds’ cert petition. “At long last, Reynolds and the other major tobacco companies will be held accountable for their massive and reprehensible misconduct that harmed thousands of Florida smokers. As Reynolds’ own lawyers have concluded, denial of its cert petition is a very big deal indeed,” Sweda said.
In arguing in December 2011 that its petition should be granted, Reynolds’ attorneys (Paul D. Clement of Bancroft PLLC, Gregory G. Katsas of Jones Day and Eric E. Murphy of Jones Day) claimed that in “their conduct of Engle progeny litigation, the Florida state courts are engaged in serial due-process violations that threaten the defendants with literally billions of dollars of liability.” (emphasis added) Moreover, “the massive liability imposed on the Engle defendants – which currently stands at over $375 million in adverse judgments – will… steadily increase as Engle progeny trials continue with no end in sight.” (emphasis added).
TPLP Director, Mark Gottlieb, noted that, “while cigarette companies’ statements are often thought to be disingenuous, in the case of Reynold’s Petition to the Court, it is absolutely true that the Engle cases create ‘massive liability’ with ‘no end in sight.'” Gottlieb added: “But the industry’s liability is not limited to these cases. Verdicts like the Evans case in Boston ($81 million) and Schwarz in Oregon ($25 million) can and should become more commonplace beyond the Sunshine State.”
Currently, of the 61 Engle Progeny cases that have reached a verdict (not counting mistrials), 41 have been plaintiff verdicts (one of which was overturned on appeal on statute of limitations grounds and is being further appealed) and 20 have been defense verdicts, with thousands of cases awaiting trial. “Today is a great day for thousands of Florida residents who turned to the American judicial system to seek justice,” Sweda concluded.
Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
Two historic class action lawsuits that were filed in 1998 finally reached trial on March 12, 2012 in Montreal. The cases, Cecilia Letourneau v. JTI_Macdonald Corp., Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. and Conseil quebecois sur le tabac et la santé and Jean-Yves Blais v. JTI-Macdonald Corp., Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc, carry specific demands by the plaintiffs.
In the Letourneau case, the plaintiffs demand a payment of $5000 to each addicted Quebec smoker as compensation for his or her addiction, while the plaintiffs in the Blais case demand $100,000 in compensation for each Quebec smoker who has suffered from lung cancer, emphysema, larynx cancer or throat cancer. The estimate for the total amount sought in these two cases is $27 billion (Can).
The cases were certified as class actions in 2005. Three years later, each of the tobacco company defendants brought in the federal government as third party defendants.
Rob Cunningham, senior policy analysts for the Canadian Cancer Society, told the Montreal Gazette that the trial is “a chance to find out what the industry knew, when they knew it and how they used the information.” A daily blog is available for updates on the trial, which is expected to last at least two years, at http://tobaccotrial.blogspot.com