TOBACCO ROAD: Big Tobacco Takes Another Hit in Florida Case
In the Florida tobacco case, a judge ruled Wednesday that the jury can hear evidence of the industry's borrowing power, another setback for tobacco companies that could inflate a multibillion damage award (AP/Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 5/31). On Tuesday, Dr. Michael Siegel, an epidemiologist from Boston University, testified against the multibillion dollar industry, arguing that its teen antismoking campaign is ineffective and may serve as a "recruitment tool to get new smokers," the Sun-Sentinel reports. "I don't think the company is spending a penny in a true effort to try to get youth to stop smoking," Siegel said, adding, "It's either ineffective or it's actually going to programs or to advertising that's actually going to make smoking more appealing to youth." Stanley Rosenblatt, the plaintiffs' attorney, noted that Siegel's testimony contradicts claims by tobacco lawyers that the industry is "dedicated to preventing young people from smoking." During cross-examination by Brown & Williamson lawyer Gordon Smith, Siegel denied that tobacco companies had taken any "legitimate and effective" measures to curb teen smoking (Somers, 5/31).
Humanizing the Issue
As part of their defense, industry attorneys attempted to "humanize" the corporations, citing workers who make cigarettes and teachers whose retirement funds are tied to the industry's stock. They also hoped to show that the industry has changed and is working to prevent teen smoking (Somers, Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 5/29). Although Rosenblatt has not asked for a specific amount of damages, tobacco lawyers fear punitive verdicts may reach as high as $300 billion, which could be the death knell for the industry (Ft. Lauderdale Sun- Sentinel, 5/31).
WHO Attacks Industry
In other tobacco news, the World Health Organization launched a global campaign against the industry yesterday, which may include a worldwide ban on tobacco advertising, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. "Tobacco is a communicable disease. It's communicated through advertising, marketing and making smoking appear admirable and glamourous," Dr. Gro Brundtland, director-general of the WHO, said as part of a "World No-Tobacco Day" event in Bangkok. About 10,000 people demonstrated in the Thai capital, singing antitobacco songs and starting a clock representing one death every eight seconds from tobacco-related disease. "It is hard, if not impossible, to find any parallel in history where people who have gone about in such a systematic way perpetuating death and destruction have gone unpunished and unquestioned," Brundtland said. He noted that 10 million people a year will die from tobacco-related deaths by 2030. Daniel Wilson, regional manager of corporate affairs for British-American Tobacco, argued that the industry was being "locked out" of negotiations on the WHO's planned Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, where its 191 members will discuss the global advertising ban. According to Brundtland, however, tobacco companies will have a forum when the WHO holds its October meeting in Geneva (5/31).
Around the Nation
Back in the United States, lawmakers are simultaneously cracking down on tobacco use and spending tobacco settlement money:
- Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon (D) filed suit last Thursday in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield against 7-Eleven, Walgreen Co. and Discount Smoke Shop Inc., charging that their stores are selling tobacco products to minors, the Kansas City Star reports. According to the lawsuits, which include violations in 25 7-Eleven stores and 34 Walgreen facilities, sting operations revealed that the stores' rate of sales to minors easily eclipsed the state average of 28%. "We have taken aggressive action against the tobacco companies for advertising to minors, but now it is time to crack down on those retailers who are selling to minors," Nixon said (5/25).
- In Louisiana, the first research grants, totaling $7.7 million, were awarded from the state's $4.6 billion in tobacco settlement money by the state Board of Regents to study a variety of health problems, including how certain genes might prevent obesity and the causes of hearing and vision loss (Shuler, Baton Rouge Advocate, 5/30).
- Tennessee lawmakers may opt to sell the $4.8 billion in tobacco settlement money that the state will receive over the next 25 years to get money up front, a move proponents argue will eliminate the risk of tobacco companies not paying the agreed amount (Sharp, AP/Knoxville News-Sentinel, 5/25).