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Chicago, Illinois Personal Injury Law Firm
Tobacco Litigation History & Recent Developments
First Wave of Litigation
Lawsuits filed against tobacco companies based on alleged knowledge of the health risks associated with smoking were first filed in the 1950s without must success. These initial lawsuits were typically filed by smokers with lung cancer based on theories of negligent manufacture, product liability (dangerous or defective product), negligent advertising (tobacco companies failed to warn consumers of risks associated with smoking), fraud and violations of state consumer protection laws.
The tobacco companies were largely successful in defending these early lawsuits, arguing that they were not liable because tobacco was not harmful, the plaintiffs’ cancer was not caused by smoking, and the plaintiffs had assumed the risk of cancer when they decided to smoke.
Second Wave of Litigation
In the 1980s, another wave of lawsuits was filed in which plaintiffs alleged that the tobacco companies knew that smoking caused cancer and that cigarettes were addictive, but failed to warn consumers. Again, the tobacco companies were generally successful in defending these lawsuits, arguing that smokers had knowingly assumed the risks of cancer when they began smoking and that federal laws regarding tobacco advertising superseded state advertising laws.
Third Wave of Litigation
In the 1990s, plaintiffs began to have success in the lawsuits against the tobacco manufacturers after documents surfaced showing that the tobacco companies had known that tobacco products were addictive.
Around this time, several states began suing the tobacco manufacturers under state consumer protection and antitrust laws, arguing that cigarettes contributed to health problems that resulted in significant heath costs to the states’ public health systems. The states’ lawsuits reached a culmination in 1998 when the attorneys general of 46 states and four of the largest tobacco companies in the country agreed to settle the claims. Highlights of this master settlement agreement included:
- A ban on tobacco companies advertising or marketing their products to children.
- Annual payments to the states by the tobacco companies to compensate them for health-care costs related to smoking – totaling a minimum amount of $206 billion over the first 25 years.
- The creation of the National Public Education Foundation, which is dedicated to reducing the number of youth smokers and preventing diseases associated with smoking.
- The dissolution of three of the largest tobacco industry organizations.
Recent Developments in Tobacco Litigation
- Individual Lawsuits Pending In Florida. In 2006, a Florida judge ruled that tobacco companies had knowingly sold dangerous products and concealed the health risks associated with smoking, but that any claims arising as a result of this conduct must be brought as an individual lawsuit and not as a class action. This ruling lead to thousands of individual lawsuits being filed against the tobacco companies.
- Light cigarettes. Some plaintiffs have alleged that tobacco companies advertise light cigarettes as healthier than regular cigarettes when, in fact, light cigarettes merely use a special filter to dilute the smoke inhaled by smokers and are not any healthier than regular cigarettes. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal law does not preempt certain state law claims alleging unfair business practices.
- Payment Dispute between Tobacco Companies and States. Certain tobacco companies are disputing $7.1 billion in funds that have been withheld by the states pursuant to the master settlement agreement. The tobacco companies argue that they should not be required to pay on sales from 2003 through 2010 and that they have lost market share because the states have failed to seek payments from smaller tobacco companies that are not party to the 1998 settlement.
- Profit Reporting Dispute Sales in Mississippi. R.J. Reynolds and the State of Mississippi are involved in litigation regarding whether or not the tobacco giant failed to fulfill obligations under the master tobacco settlement when it failed to report profits from the sale of 7.8 billion cigarettes made by one of its subsidiaries to the independent tobacco company Star Tobacco, which sold the cigarettes in Mississippi under the brand names Gunsmoke and Vegas between 1999 and 2002. R.J. Reynolds has argued that because the sales of those cigarettes were not directed at customers’ whose health could be affected, the sales should be exempted from the master settlement agreement. The State of Mississippi has argued that the exclusions of the sales of Star Tobacco cigarettes has resulted in artificially low payments made by R.J. Reynolds under the master settlement agreement.
- Big Tobacco Sues FDA Over Required Warning Labels with Graphic Images. Most recently five tobacco companies have sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over graphic warning labels [link to most recent blog once posted] that the tobacco manufacturers are now required to include on their packaging. The tobacco companies dispute the graphic nature of the warning labels, which include picture of a sewn-up corpse, a man smoking through a hole in his throat, a pair of diseased lungs and a mouth full of sores, as well as other graphic photos.
For More Information
Tobacco litigation involves complex legal issues such as product liability theories, class action status and possible wrongful death allegations. If you would like to learn more about tobacco litigation and whether you may have a claim, contact the Chicago tobacco litigation attorneys at Ankin Law Offices, LLC at (800) 442-6546 to schedule a free consultation. We are skilled personal injury litigators with considerable knowledge of tobacco litigation that can help your pursue a possible tobacco lawsuit.