Articles Posted in Tobacco Lawsuits

It was 50 years ago this month that the Surgeon General made a game-changing announcement to a roomful of reporters that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and possibly heart disease.

At the time, the Surgeon General office’s report on the health effects of smoking was considered so potentially damaging to the tobacco industry that it was released on a Saturday to minimize its’ effect on the stock market. Probably for good reason: In 1964, 42 percent of Americans were smokers.

Today, that number is 18 percent.

A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) says that the Surgeon General’s announcement was the catalyst that led to a profound transformation in the way Americans view smoking. Researchers postulate that the decline in smoking since the Surgeon General’s report has prevented 8 million tobacco-related deaths – more than half of them in people under age 65.
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Florida Personal Injury Lawyer228,000. Each year, that’s how many Americans are told they have lung cancer. And each year, more than 160,000 die of the disease.

To put that into perspective, lung cancer causes more deaths than prostate, breast, and colon cancers combined and it accounts for some 27 percent of all cancer deaths. Remarkably, 1 in 14 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It started out as Lung Cancer Awareness Day in 1995 and has since grown in breadth and scope.
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In what is considered a major setback for the tobacco industry, the tobacco litigation attorneys at Farah & Farah have learned that the 3rd District Court of Appeal has upheld a jury verdict that awarded $35 million in damages to the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer in 1996.

Florida Tobacco LawsuitThe widow was initially a member of a large class-action suit against R.J. Reynolds, the country’s largest tobacco company. The Florida Supreme Court threw out the class action case. The now famous “Engle Decision” opened up the gates for individuals to sue tobacco companies in Florida state courts.

The woman sued North-Carolina-based Lorillard Tobacco Company, claiming that the company made the brand of cigarettes that her husband had been addicted to since he was 14-years-old. She contended that the company willfully disregarded scientific research on the health threats and addictiveness of its products and continued to aggressively “cast doubt on the validity” on the scientific community’s findings.

A Florida jury agreed with her and awarded her $25 million in punitive damages and another $20 million in compensatory damages. The judge later lowered the compensatory damages to $10 million.
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A Florida appeals court admitted it had wrongly reversed a nearly $2 million jury verdict issued by a lower court against tobacco giant Phillip Morris and reinstated the award to a widower whose wife died of lung cancer.

In February 2012, the Fourth District Circuit Court of Appeal agreed with Phillip Morris’ contention that the statue of limitations for the suit had run out and threw out the verdict. The widower had filed the lawsuit in December 2007 after his wife had died of lung cancer in April of 1996. The clock starts running on filing a claim once a plaintiff knows or should have known that he or she has suffered an injury caused by smoking. Phillip Morris contended that the widower was aware before May 1990 that cigarette smoking had caused serious problems with his wife’s health.
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Can Big Tobacco be forced to admit that they manipulated nicotine levels to make cigarettes more addictive, or that they lied about the health effects of cigarettes – even if it is true?

“Simply because a court found it, doesn’t mean it can force us to say it,” a lawyer who represents several tobacco companies told a federal judge at recent hearing.

Tobacco companies have been fighting the Justice Department for six years on the wording of “corrective statements,” that are part of a penalty they must pay after an historic 2006 ruling by a U.S. district judge found that the tobacco industry had misled the public for decades. The statements are slated to eventually run in newspaper ads and other venues.

According to the Associated Press, the Justice Department’s proposed statements would cover areas such as the lack of health benefits from “low-tar” or “mild” cigarettes and the negative effects of second-hand smoke. These labels are different than the ones run on U.S. cigarette packaging and from the graphic labels proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The industry claims that the government can’t mandate them to admit they manipulated cigarette ingredients and lied to the public because it is a violation of free speech rights. Even though an appeals court upheld the 2006 court ruling, the industry maintains it shouldn’t be forced to admit to something it doesn’t believe to be true.
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First the good news: cigarette use among middle school and high school students is down substantially since 2000. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 4.3 percent of middle school students and 15.8 percent of high school students used cigarettes in 2011. That’s down from 10.7 percent and 30 percent respectively in 2000.

Now the bad news: the use of cigars, especially little cigars, is up. The CDC reported that cigar smoking has grown more popular among high school students.

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Cigars are less regulated than cigarettes, and in many cases are taxed less, which provides youth with a more affordable tobacco alternative. The tobacco industry has taken advantage of regulatory loopholes and is making cigars more cigarette-like in size and is even selling candy and fruit flavored cigars – a marketing ploy specifically aimed at children, critics contend.
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Florida Smoking Death TrialBroward Circuit Court jury has decided that four tobacco companies are responsible for the death of a Lauderhill man and must pay his widow $73.32 million in damages.

The jury found R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorilland Tobacco Co., Ligget Group, and Phillip Morris USA, liable for $20.5 million in compensatory damages and $54.85 million in punitive damages.

According to a family attorney, the award for the survivors of the cement finisher who died from bladder cancer and heart disease is among the top ten of 43 verdicts that have been found for plaintiffs in Florida tobacco trials so far. The largest has been around $300 million.

Sixty-three lawsuits have gone to trial so far and some 7,000 are still pending.
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In a move designed to further educate the public about the dangers of tobacco products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has told the tobacco industry that it must report the amount of unsafe chemicals in its products and also prove that smoking alternatives, such as snuff, are actually lower-risk substitutes to smoking as some of them have claimed.

This FDA action is a mandate of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Law Act that passed in 2009. It gave the agency the authority to regulate tobacco products and required the tobacco industry to give the FDA information on the quantities of harmful chemicals in products starting in 2012. The agency plans to disseminate this information to the public by April of 2013.

The FDA released a list of 93 chemicals – which it calls Harmful and Potentially Harmful Constituents (HOHCs) – that tobacco firms would have to report quantities of in their products.
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FL Tobacco LitigationIn a move that may affect thousands of pending cases against tobacco companies in Florida, the Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds (RJR) that sought to overturn a $28.3 million wrongful death verdict issued by a Pensacola jury in 2009.

The tobacco industry argued that Florida legal procedures are unconstitutional because they do not require a plaintiff to prove key elements of their claims – namely that tobacco companies knowingly sold defective and dangerous products to the public. They also contended that previous rulings by Florida trial judges were too broad and deprived them of their right to defend themselves.

The RJR appeal stemmed from the case of a Florida woman who filed suit against the tobacco corporation for the wrongful death of her husband, who died in 1995 of lung cancer. In a brief opposing the Supreme Court appeal, the plaintiff’s lawyers countered that the husband had died as a result of reliance on RJR products and that he had been a victim of RJR’s and its co-conspirators’ 50-year campaign of misinformation.
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A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel has stopped short of recommending a ban on menthol cigarettes, despite the evidence that they contribute to a rise in smoking among adolescents. The Chicago Tribune reports the advisory panel issued its long-awaited report recently but urged the issue of menthol in cigarettes needed further study, a relief to the tobacco industry, which has been nervous since 2009 when the FDA gained authority to regulate tobacco.

The panel even suggested that removing menthol cigarettes would benefit public health in the U.S. The FDA does not have to follow the advice of its expert panels but usually does.

Smoking cigarettes is blamed for the deaths of 443,000 every year and $100 billion in uncompensated medical care and $100 billion in lost productivity, reports the newspaper. Smoking is not only linked to lung cancer, but also bladder, kidney, esophageal, pancreatic, and other cancers.
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