The Government and the Courts - Suing The Tobacco Companies

settlement documents billion industry

Between 1960 and 1988, approximately three hundred lawsuits sought damages from tobacco companies for smoking-related illnesses; courts, though, consistently held that people who choose to smoke are responsible for the health consequences of that decision. But in 1988, a tobacco company was ordered to pay damages for the first time. A federal jury in Newark, New Jersey, ordered Liggett Group, Inc., to pay $400,000 to the family of Rose Cipollone, a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in 1984. The case was overturned on appeal, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cipollone family in Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc. (505 U.S. 504, 1992). In the 7-2 ruling, the Court broadened a smoker's right to sue cigarette makers in cancer cases. The justices decided that the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1966 (PL 89-92), which required warnings on tobacco products, did not preempt damage suits. Despite the warnings on tobacco packaging, people can still sue on the grounds that tobacco companies purposely concealed information about the risks of smoking.

The "Tobacco Wars"

In 1994 Mississippi became the first state to sue tobacco companies to recoup health care costs associated with smoking (The State of Mississippi v. American Tobacco et al., Case No. 94-1429). Minnesota and West Virginia soon followed. In 1995 and 1996, fifteen states would file suit against cigarette companies. About forty states, the cities of New York and San Francisco, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and other third parties involved in paying for medical care have sued to try to recover Medicaid, Medicare, and other medical costs associated with tobacco-related health problems.

In February and March 1994, the ABC newsmagazine Day One broadcast two stories entitled "Smoke Screen" and "The List," which contended that Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds increased (or "spiked") the nicotine content of their cigarettes from outside sources, thereby making them more addictive. A few weeks later, Philip Morris filed a $10 billion lawsuit against ABC. In August 1995 the network apologized for its Day One broadcasts.

In May 1994 top secret documents from tobacco company Brown & Williamson were leaked to the New York Times and the University of California Tobacco Control Archive. These documents included memos, marketing reports, research papers, and corporate policy statements from the 1960s through the 1980s. The papers clearly indicated the company's efforts to conceal the health risks of their product.

In November 1995 the New York Times reported that CBS terminated a broadcast of a 60 Minutes interview with a former tobacco executive, later identified as Jeffrey Wigand. CBS was believed to have chosen not to run the story for fear of a lawsuit by Brown & Williamson, which would have come just as a $5.4 billion merger between CBS and Westinghouse Electric Corporation was about to take place. A New York Times editorial pointed out that "a multi-billion dollar lawsuit would hardly have been a welcome development" ("Self-Censorship at CBS," New York Times, November 13, 1995). Wigand would later testify before federal and state prosecutors about what he knew concerning the misleading and harmful practices of Brown & Williamson. His statements also included charges that company executives lied during Congressional hearings when they claimed to believe that nicotine was not addictive. (Mr. Wigand's story was later dramatized in the film The Insider.)


To avoid the onslaught of lawsuits, the tobacco industry sought a national settlement with the states, in return for future protection from lawsuits. In June 1997 the country's largest tobacco companies and forty states that had filed suit against the tobacco industry agreed on a settlement. According to the proposed agreement, tobacco companies would pay the states $368.5 billion over twenty-five years to reimburse them for their tobacco-related medical costs and to pay for tobacco-control programs to reduce tobacco use among teenagers.

In addition, tobacco companies would accept FDA authority to regulate tobacco products, restrict their advertising, and release internal research documents related to the health effects of their products. The states would drop all claims against the tobacco companies and grant the industry immunity from future class-action lawsuits (suits on behalf of large groups of people). This proposed settlement required changes in federal law before taking effect.

Over the following months, various members of Congress introduced their own comprehensive tobacco bills, broadly based on the settlement. Each of these efforts failed and by September 1997 the potential settlement was perceived by many to have unraveled. The states resumed negotiation with the tobacco companies to try to reach a more limited settlement, one that would not require federal legislation to take effect.


In the meantime, the industry settled two of its pending state lawsuits. In the summer of 1997 tobacco companies agreed to pay Mississippi $3.4 billion and Florida $11.3 billion. In the Florida settlement, they agreed to remove tobacco billboards, public transit advertising, and vending machines. The Florida settlement also required that the tobacco companies release internal documents.

The tobacco companies had long denied that nicotine was addictive, that they had manipulated nicotine levels to make their products more addictive, and that they had targeted young people in their advertising campaigns. They had also denied that scientific research had demonstrated links between health problems and tobacco products. The release of the documents about Brown & Williamson in 1994 did offer some challenges to these assertions. In August 1997 two important events occurred in pretrial testimony for the lawsuit brought by the state of Florida.

First, the chairman of the Philip Morris Companies, Geoffrey Bible, testified that smoking-related diseases "might have" caused the deaths of one hundred thousand Americans in recent decades. Second, Steven F. Goldstone, chairman of RJR Nabisco Holding Corporation (the parent company of the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company), testified that he believed cigarettes "play a role in causing lung cancer."

In April 1998 New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco filed a court motion to dissolve the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research, calling them "propaganda fronts" funded by the tobacco industry that allegedly misled the public about the health risks of smoking. In early 1998 the industry settled with Texas for $15.3 billion. In May, after having gone to trial but just before the case was to go to the jury, the tobacco companies settled with Minnesota for $6.6 billion. The Minnesota case forced the disclosure of millions of internal tobacco company documents, exposing deceptive conduct and laying the foundation for future legal actions. The Minnesota agreement required the industry to maintain depositories of these documents and to release an index to millions of previously released documents.

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over 4 years ago

If my brother just die from tobacco smoking, can I sue the tobacco companies?

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over 4 years ago

my parents are both smokers and i've seen their addiction hurt them so i think tobbaco companies are to blame

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over 3 years ago

I will be turning 48 in Jan.At the age of 5 I would go up to two hotels,Holiday Inn and The Travelodge and purchase cigarettes from a machine for 1.25 per pack.As I Got older my family and friends would tell me that smoking was bad and I would argue stating that the tabacco co. have done many studies that show any link between smoking and your health,and there's no way the tabacco officials would lie to congress.Than in 1988 I saw the former employee for the tabacco co. reveal documents to show the tabacco co.lied.For 19yrs I had been smoking.I've tried to quit but can't.At the age of 40 I had 4 stents put in my arteries leading to my kidneys,about a month later I had quad drupple bypass,3 months later 2 of my stents closed and I lossed 25% of my left kidney and 50% of the right so now I have stage three kidney disease,I have PAD,blockage in both arteries in my neck,my SMA,and my vertrabral artery,what really sucks is I still can't quit.My doctor put me on chantix and another medication that I take now,but I can't quit.I have six kids,I love my wife of 28 yrs,I've had a total of 14 angio grams,five of those I had stents placed in my arteries,3 major surgeries and I don't want to die but know that's where I'm heading.When you have an addiction and have been addicted for 43 yrs out of 48 and I try to quit but every time I go to a store I see them and have to have one.If you have a sex addiction,drugs,drinking,or whatever.Just think when you wanted to quit someone kept a naked person infront of you,or drugs,or whatever your addicted to is always infront of you.My sister who was a nurse,took me to her work and showed me people that had cancer and different illnesses,took me to the morg.I want ever Judge,polition,or whoever has the authority to stop big tabacco,to do so.I keep seeing states and the federal government passing laws that are unconstitutional,but say their doing it for the health and safety of the public,such as airport screening.Let me let a federal worker who I don't know rub his hand in my crotch,but because we get bought off we'll allow the tabacco products kill millions.To me that's like when you comitt a crime and someone died in the process and even though you didn't shoot the gun,your still charged with murder because you where with and part of the criminal act that cost someone to loose their life.The same thing should happen to anyone that allows the tabacco co. to exsist.I know I couldn't smoke if I couldn't buy them and please don't tell me how they would be sold on the black market.I want to thank all the lawyers at their who are fighting for the health and safety of everyone,Thank God some people are trying to stop the killers at Big Tabacco.

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over 4 years ago

Can I sue the tabacco companies now as I have had half a lung removed in Novenber 2 2009 can I sue for pain and or anything else. for disability?

please reply

Thank you

Heather Poland

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about 3 years ago

I am tired of people saying that is a "personal choice" to smoke. Granted if you start smoking nowadays that would be true. When I started smoking 51 years ago, there were no warning labels on any pack of cigarettes, nor warning labels on any cigarette vending machines, the complete opposite, back in 1962 it was looked upon as "cool". Every kid in my school smoked, including yours truly, unaware of any health's risk or addiction. Back then nicotine was not a considered a drug worse than cocaine, quite the contrary, cigarette companies claimed that it was safe to smoke when they knew different. I was 14 years old when I started smoking (1 to 2 packs per day). I have exercised my whole life, have always eaten healthy, yet last year, at 63 I suffered a heart attack because of narrowing arteries one blocked 100%, and had a stent put in. I almost died and thanks to the Director of Cardiology at Baptist Hospital who performed the procedure I am still around. The doctor told my family and myself after the procedure that if I ever placed another cigarette in my mouth I would die. I quit for about a month in a half, and even though I had been warned this time about the risks of smoking (this was 1 year ago) I started again why?, simply because I have been an addict for 50 years without knowing what I was becoming 50 years ago when nicotine "pushers" got me hooked.
So your darn right, if I can sue the tobacco companies, I will! for actually knowingly committing murder on innocent people.
So, think twice before you say smoking is a personal choice. Nowadays, MAYBE, back then NO WAY!!

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almost 4 years ago

I admit it "can be" the smokers fault, but not if they did not know what it caused when they started. And "alot" of things can cause people to die because of personal choices, so WHY ISN'T HEROIN, COCAINE, AND MARIJUANA LEGAL TOO? It's a personal choice isn't it? They are rated less addictive than cigarettes but still kill you, make you age, slows your thought process by substituting oxygen with the drug nicotine, makes you stink, yellows your teeth, and harms the health of surrounding people. But they have somewhat of an excuse for endangering the lives of others, ADDICTION. Nicotine tops the list of being the most addictive but why is it legal? It kills enough people doesn't it? Usually when there is a block in the road with signs in front of them and you pass them you get in trouble, people don't just sit watch and say "well hey if they want to die then go ahead", and usually those are the people who don't care about anyone else in the world therefore "Not" making the world a better place therefore doing exactly the opposite of what the goal is for the world which "IS" to make the world a better place. Is it so much more different than a person getting shot and killed and the shooter walking off scotch free. Want to say "Guns don't kill people, People do?" Well people are behind the invention of it. If you want to be a wiseass and get technical with me I challenge you, the only people who would try to go against me would be the ones FOR the other side, I know what side I'm on and I know which side will win, everything takes time :).

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over 4 years ago

to fallenfighter , your parents chose to smoke. the tobacco companies did not force your parents to go out and smoke. so therefore it is your parents fault. sorry

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over 4 years ago

I am not opposed to smoking what so ever and have many friends/family who do. What you do to your body is your own free will. As a friend and a moral human, it is our responsibility to advise, guide, and support decisions of others. Not make them. Take eating unhealthy for example…Heart deses kill more Americans than anything else in the world. Even in the second leading cause of death, cancer, smoking is not the primary cause. “Factors leading to cancer death include: diet and obesity (30-35%), tobacco (25-30%), infections (15-20%)…” [Kunnumakara AB, et al. (September 2008)].Smoking is a selfish and irresponsible decision made by citizens, whom were warned again and again of its dangers. When responsibility catches up to them, often they don not take ownership of their actions. Instead they blame others and seek compensation. Selfishly seeking financial benefit from others by filing lawsuits against corporations. This action is like, eating McDonalds all your life despite numerous warnings later suffering some degree of physical loss then turning around and suing McDonalds.When are citizens going to start taking some personal ownership and quit pointing the finger?

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over 2 years ago

I am 53 female, I have been suffering with COPD for about 12 yrs. Today I am in the last stage. I suffer so much. What about people who years ago that had no warnings on the packs> I was sold cigs all the time at the age of 11. I was a child, where is the compensation for that. I can't walk ten steps without almost passing out, I cant afford the expensive inhalers, I have to make do with the little I have. What or where was the protection yrs ago??? Who is responsible? I was a child.

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almost 3 years ago


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almost 3 years ago

I am just crazy or what? If the tobacco is under the FDA then why don't they make the tobacco co. to take all of the nicotine out of all tobacco product's? We all know that is why people have a hard time quiting.

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about 4 years ago

Stinking of corruption.

I have been suing the tobacco companies for millions of dollars since 1958, year of early birth and early birth.

The reason being hence tobacco was removed from housing in early 1994.


Karen J. Dawe

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