Smoking-related diseases claim an estimated 438,000 American lives each year. This also includes those affected indirectly, such as babies born prematurely due to prenatal maternal smoking and some of the victims of “secondhand” exposure to tobacco’s carcinogens. Smoking kills more people than AIDS, alcohol, drug abuse, car crashes, murders, suicides, and fires combined.
The cigarette industry had steadfastly denied for decades that smoking causes cancer and other diseases, and that it is addictive. For the first 42 years of litigation, from 1954 to 1996, the industry never paid a penny to its victims. It did this through litigation tactics that made the cases prohibitively expensive for plaintiffs and their attorneys. The industry’s record against litigation broke in 1996 when Brooke Group Ltd, parent of Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company, settled with several states which had brought claims against it. The company agreed to pay monetary damages, add meaningful warnings on cigarette packages, and provide testimony and documents about industry misconduct in pending cases against its competitors. The remainder of the American tobacco industry rushed to the settlement table with the states’ attorneys, class action attorneys, and one public health advocate (later two), reaching an agreement in June 1997.
Litigation today is moving forward on several fronts in the form of individual cases, class actions, second-hand smoke lawsuits, and third party reimbursement actions. Possible bases of liability against tobacco companies include strict liability, negligence, fraud, fraudulent concealment, conspiracy to commit fraud and fraudulent concealment, and breach of implied warranty.