Ever since research came up linking tobacco (cigarettes) to lung cancer — a disease that costs the United States well over $300 billion annually — US citizens spent decades filing Tobacco cases. Cigarette manufacturers paid out billions to resolve these issues. Studies also found smoking aggravates other diseases such as asbestos lung cancer, causing more lung cancer lawsuits against Tobacco.
In 1881, after the creation of the cigarette-making machine, tobacco as an American industry began, becoming a principal economic pilot and a staple in approximately half of US households. The growing pattern in popularity changed in the mid-1960s, precisely, in 1964 when the United States Surgeon General’s office discharged a report on lung cancer from tobacco.
Since then, more than 20 million US citizens have lost their lives due to the effects of smoking, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Amongst those who have not died from their addiction to smoking, millions live with at least one illness caused by smoking — like diabetes or asthma— or worsened by the habit of smoking — for instance asbestos lung cancer.
Consequently, US citizens have spent above 60 years suing tobacco companies for lung cancer and related conditions and have won several key cases.
Key Tobacco cases
Even though there is a long history of suing tobacco companies for lung cancer and associated conditions, a majority were barren until the late 1990s. The first level of lawsuits, ranging from the late 1950s to the 1970s, were individual cases versus Big Tobacco that claimed misrepresentation, infraction of warranty, and negligence. Tobacco companies called the veracity of these new scientific developments into question to disprove the plaintiff’s claims. The Public Health Law Center said that, only a few cases went to trial and were all barren.
The second set of tobacco cases, in the 1980s and early 1990s, were also mostly fruitless. Many of these cases charged tobacco companies with strict liability and failing to warn. Nonetheless, tobacco companies annihilated scientific research and continued plunging health studies linking smoking with lung cancer in doubt. All but one case — the notorious Cipollone v. Liggett — sank, and the Cipollone case was finally overturned.
The third level of tobacco lawsuit started in 1994 and found a lot of success. During this period, the attorney generals of all 50 states sued tobacco companies for Medicaid costs used to pay health conditions related to smoking, claiming the companies had fraudulent and deceptive marketing, marketed to infants and conspired to to hide the health effects of cigarette smoking. Tobacco companies settled in 1998, accepting to pay $206 billion — the greatest settlement in United States history. In 2006 a United States District Court judge also ruled tobacco companies had fraudulently concealed the risks associated with smoking cigarettes and marketed their products to infants, breaching the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act.
Ever since, plaintiffs have continued to file class action cases against tobacco companies, a few resulting in considerable settlements.
Cipollone v. Liggett
In 1984, addicted smoker Rose Cipollone died of lung cancer at age 58. Before her death, she and her family held Liggett Group — the producer of Chesterfield and L & M Filters cigarettes — to sue them for a product liability claim, saying that Liggett was responsible for her lung cancer from tobacco and consequent death. Even though Liggett argued Cipollone smoked at her own detriment, the jury ruled the tobacco industry was partly to blame since she had been smoking since before the advent of warning labels on cigarette cartons. They granted Cipollone’s family a $400,000 in damages for Liggett’s infraction of warranty in 1988, even though an appellate court overturned the award later on. After using up all of their financial resources, the Cipollone family abandoned its 10-year lung cancer lawsuit in 1992.
Even though the case was finally unsuccessful, it is meaningful in the history of tobacco lawsuits because it widened the terms under which smokers could take tobacco companies to court, and it was the first time a tobacco company had to grant a settlement to a plaintiff.
Master Settlement Agreement
In 1994, the Mississippi attorney generals and several other states sued the four key tobacco companies —, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Philip Morris USA, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard — for breaching antitrust laws and state consumer protection, and argued the health effects of smoking caused significant costs to public healthcare systems. Minnesota, Mississippi, Florida and Texas attained settlements with defendants to get back Medicaid costs in 1997.
Meanwhile, many other states started to file similar cases against tobacco companies although Congress did not pass a universal settlement agreement, which the sates and Big Tobacco both petitioned for. Nonetheless, the companies eventually attained a settlement with the remaining 46 states in November 1998, which is called the Master Settlement Agreement.
The Master Settlement Agreement granted the 46 states $206 billion for the duration of many years. The agreement also enforced new prohibitions on tobacco adverts, restricted practices that would hide negative information on smoking, established a tobacco prevention foundation and demanded the four tobacco companies to expose all non-privileged info they had discovered about the health effects of smoking. The settlement is the greatest in United States history.
United States v. Philip Morris
In 1999, the united states Department of Justice sued several renowned Tobacco companies — especially, Philip Morris — for illegal marketing of its products as safe to the US public and marketing to infants, and sought refund for medical expenses.
While the court closed the plaintiff’s request for refund, it permitted the rest of the case to continue, placing the claim under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act.
In 2006, United States District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled big tobacco as responsible for violating RICO. The historic belief states tobacco companies “executed and engaged in— and continue to execute and engage in— a cumbersome 50-year scheme to defraud the public.” Even though the tobacco companies filed an appeal, three United States Court of Appeals judges unanimously supported Kessler’s ruling in 2009.
The health effects associated with tobacco smoking cannot be matched with the settlements granted by tobacco companies during lawsuits. Donations made by tobacco producing companies to cancer curing facilities are futile, why cause a disease condition only to provide a cure? More so, lives lost as a result of smoking will never be replaced. Imposing high taxes and donations on these companies are good strategies to mitigate the health effects of smoking.