I’m guessing if you made a list of the biggest flim flam artists of all time, the tobacco industry would be right at the top. In 2006, “a federal district court determined that tobacco companies ‘knew there was a consensus in the scientific community that smoking caused lung cancer and other diseases’ by at least January 1964,’ and … nonetheless engaged in a campaign to ‘mislead the public about the health consequences of smoking.’” In 2012, a federal judge ordered the industry “to publicly admit, through advertisements and package warnings, that they deceived American consumers for decades about the dangers of smoking” including the fact that “secondhand smoke kills over 3,000 Americans each year.” Notice how recently this all took place. It never stops.
Take the new e-cigarette craze, which the industry markets as an aide to quit smoking. But a new study was released Thursday showing that “40 percent of tobacco consumers use multiple products, such as cigarillos, hookah and cigars..… The most common combination of products among youth and adults was cigarettes and e-cigarettes.” Based on this research, it seems just as likely that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking as they are a tool for quitting. So far, FDA regulation in this area has not been strong enough.
So what’s the alternative? Well, one might be the filing of a class action lawsuit. Indeed, on Thursday, in a 6 to 1 decision, the Arkansas Supreme Court allowed a class action to proceed against Philip Morris over Marlboro Lights, which were falsely marketed from 1971 to 2010 as “healthier” alternatives with lower tar and nicotine. Writes AP, “The company wants each case considered separately, saying some smokers bought the cigarettes for their taste, packaging or brand reputation — not for claims they had lower tar and nicotine.” The court clearly didn't buy that!
Class actions can be the most efficient way for tobacco cases to go forward but unfortunately not every court agrees. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court “threw out a $145 billion class-action verdict against cigarette makers.” That meant the smokers and their families have had to file “individual wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits based on cigarette use.” Luckily, however, “[t]hat decision let stand findings that the companies knowingly sold dangerous products and hid smoking hazards, meaning future juries could consider that as proven fact.”
A $100 million settlement has been reached between three major tobacco companies and hundreds of people who sued them for smoking-related deaths and illnesses in Florida federal court.
The tentative agreement announced Wednesday involves R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris USA Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. The deal resolves about 400 cases pending before a federal judge in Jacksonville, Florida, but does not affect thousands of other lawsuits pending in Florida state courts.
Those must still be litigated, one by one. Seems like an incredible waste of judicial resources but that's what happens when cases cannot proceed as a class.
[C]lass actions are critically important to compensate victims of illegal behavior and to deter corporate law-breaking.… When a company practices a pattern of discrimination or receives a large windfall through small injuries to large numbers of people, a class action lawsuit is the only realistic way harmed individuals can afford to challenge this wrongdoing in court.