Cigarette Makers Claim Anti-Smoking Ads from the Department of Health Bias Juries
Tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris are blaming an aggressive anti-smoking advertising campaign by the Department of Health Services for a string of defeats in lawsuits in California, saying that the ads are biasing jurors, the Wall Street Journal reports. With three consecutive multi-million dollar losses in California lawsuits in recent years and dozens of other suits being filed, cigarette makers claim the ads "have been timed and placed in close proximity to trial dates and trial venues." R.J. Reynolds officials said that California's "self proclaimed 'propaganda' campaign has had devastating effects on cigarette companies' right to a fair trial" in the state, the Journal reports. The company has asked that a lawsuit being tried in state Superior Court next month either be dismissed or moved to a county where fewer jurors have been influenced by the ads. Phillip Morris, which has several cases pending in the state before the end of the year, was recently ordered to pay $3 billion in punitive damages, the largest damage award ever to an individual in U.S. legal history. To support their claims, the companies pointed to a recent survey of adults in Sacramento that found 80% of prospective jurors believe cigarette executives lie, and 72% believe the companies encourage children to smoke.
However, Colleen Stevens, director of the California health department's tobacco-control media campaign, said "[The tobacco companies'] allegation is ludicrous. There is absolutely no coordination between the media campaign and the lawsuits." She added that the advertising slots are bought a year in advance. In addition, Stevens said that the anti-industry ads have been running since the campaign began in 1990, eight years before state lawmakers revised a law that granted tobacco companies "virtual immunity" from lawsuits, the Journal reports. The ad campaign has been successful; only 17% of California adults smoke, compared with 25% nationwide, the Journal reports. Stevens said that the tobacco companies' complaints are "just another attempt to shut down California's successful program" (Fairclough, Wall Street Journal, 9/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.