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Tobacco has been taxed by state governments in the United States for decades. The cumulative revenue of US tobacco taxation exceeded $32 billion in 2010, creating a major source of income for government.
The Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act of 1978, a law which makes cigarette smuggling a felony punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison, is used to prosecute smugglers who avoid paying the taxes on cigarettes. The proposed Stop Tobacco Smuggling in the Territories Act of 2013 (H.R. 338; 113th Congress), if it passes during the 113th United States Congress, would update the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act to include American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam, which were previously not covered by the law.
In 2010, the tobacco industry spent $16.6 million on lobbyists to represent the industry to Congress.
Major big tobacco lobbying companies include (in order of U.S. market share) Philip Morris, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Lorillard Tobacco Co. The tobacco lobby lost a chunk of its support when the U.S. National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) filed charges against the Tobacco Institute, a tobacco industry advocacy group.
This resulted in the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which forced the organization to disband and place all records on a website.
The lawsuits brought against various tobacco manufacturers, attempting to hold them responsible for wrongful death, injury, or medical expenses related to cigarette smoking and other tobacco use. Cases have been brought both by individual plaintiffs and by government officials, including U.S. State Attorney General. Punitive damages for the plaintiff have often been awarded as a result of a successful litigation. However, the vast majority of court decisions have been in favor of the defendant tobacco companies.
There has been an increased number of deaths related to tobacco smoking in the past decades. People are more aware of the risks and dangers that can be associated with tobacco smoking. People have died as a result of lung cancer from tobacco smoking and were often unable to prove that it was the cigarettes of the tobacco manufacturer that caused the person's death. Tobacco litigation is not new but has involved thousands of people in class-actions as well as individual private lawsuits since the mid-20th Century. There was an explosion of tobacco litigations in the mid 1990s, worldwide, but in the United States in particular.
- 1992: In Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc. the US Supreme Court held that the Surgeon General's warning did not preclude suit by smokers against tobacco companies on several claims, and that the federal laws on tobacco regulation aren't worded to override state laws.
- 1995: The Supreme Court of Canada in RJR-MacDonald Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General) upheld the constitutionality of the federal Tobacco Products Control Act, but struck out the provisions which prevented tobacco advertising and unattributed health warnings.
- March 2001: The US Supreme Court affirmed the Circuit Court's ruling that the Food and Drug Administration could not class tobacco as a pharmaceutical, so could not control its production through the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. (FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.)
- June 2002: A District Court in Kansas awarded $15 million in punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco after calling the company's conduct "highly blameworthy and deserving of significant punishment." (David Burton vs. R.J. Reynold's Tobacco)
- June 2002: A Miami jury held three cigarette companies liable for $37.5 million in a lawsuit involving an ex–smoker who lost his tongue to tobacco–related oral cancer. (Lukacs vs. Philip Morris)
- October 2002: A Los Angeles jury issued $28 billion in punitive damages against Philip Morris. This was later reduced to $28 million. (Betty Bullock vs. Philip Morris)
- 2003: A Madison Country, Illinois jury awarded $10.1 billion against the tobacco company Philips Morris for deceptive cigarette advertising in a class action led by attorney Stephen Tillery (Price v. Philip Morris).
- 2004: A New York jury issued $20 million to the wife of a long-term smoker who died of lung cancer at the age of 57. This was the first time that a New York court had held a tobacco company liable for an individual smoker's death. (Gladys Frankson vs. Brown and Williams Tobacco Corp)
- 2005: In Imperial Tobacco v. British Columbia the Supreme Court of Canada found that the provincial Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act, which allowed the government to sue tobacco companies, was constitutionally valid.
- 2007: Philip Morris USA v. Williams led to the US Supreme Court to tell the Oregon Court of Appeals to reconsider its earlier judgment and lower the case's punitive damages amount in light of State Farm v. Campbell. The appeals court ultimately upheld their original damages.
- 2008: The Altria Group v. Good US Supreme Court case said that state law is not preempted by a federal law regarding cigarette advertisement regulations.
Grounds of claims
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- Civil Rights
- Tobacco companies have marketed menthol cigarettes specific to African Americans; groups have pursued civil rights remedies in court.
- Design defects
- The design of tobacco products defectively causes adverse health effects.
- Strict liability
- The strict liability of the product.
- Product liability
- The liability of the product lies on the manufacturer.
- Depriving of health hazards information
- There is an ongoing civil court case in Finland, where three plaintiffs have sued tobacco companies on the basis that they marketed "light cigarettes" as non-hazardous to health, a claim the plaintiffs initially believed, before contracting serious lung diseases. The Helsinki district court rejected the claim in 2008, and the appeals court considers the appeal in 2010. "Light cigarettes" are actually more hazardous to health than regular cigarettes — they contain less nicotine, so that the smokers tend smoke more of them. "Light cigarettes" were officially recommended against in 1986 and banned in 2002 in the European Union. Other claims in the case are marketing to minors, purposefully aggravating nicotine dependency in smokers and denial of the hazards of passive smoking. The defendant Amer claims that the hazards of smoking have sufficiently been discussed publicly since the 1950s.
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- Volenti non fit injuria
- Volenti non fit injuria, or "to a willing person, no injury is done", is a common law doctrine which states, when applied to these cases, that there is no damage to someone who willingly places themselves in a position where they are negatively affected by tobacco consumption.
- Contributory negligence
- Contributory negligence is a common law defense to a claim based on negligence, that before the cases, the adverse effects were unknown. This has been one of the commonly used defences. Most of them will assert that it was the plaintiff himself that has contributed to his own injury as he has prior knowledge of the harm associated with tobacco smoking.
- A Frank Statement
- Operation Berkshire
- Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement
- Tobacco MSA (Alabama)
- Tobacco MSA (Hawaii)
- Tobacco MSA (New York)
- Merchants of Doubt
- "Saving Smokers from Themselves: The Paternalistic Use of Cigarette Taxes".
- "H.R. 338 - Congress.gov". United States Congress. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
- "Lobbying Spending Database, Tobacco 2010". OpenSecrets.org.
- Stephen E. Smith, "'Counterblastes' to Tobacco: Five Decades of North American Tobacco Litigation", Windsor Review of Legal and Social Issues, vol. 14, Nov. 2002, pp. 1–32.
- J.P.I. Law 2006 1
- Doll, R., Hill, A.: "Smoking and carcinoma of the lung. Preliminary Report", BMJ Journals (1950) ii B.M.J. 739-748
- Korein Tillery will retry light cigarettes case against Philip Morris, Market Watch, October 25, 2011
- Jain, S. Lochlann "'Come Up to the Kool Taste': African American Upward Mobility and the Semiotics of Smoking Menthols" Public Culture 15(2), Spring 2003. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/public_culture/v015/15.2jain.pdf
- Suing the Tobacco and Lead Pigment Industries: Government Litigation as Public Health Prescription by Donald G. Gifford. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-472-11714-7
- Ashes to Ashes: America's Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris by Richard Kluger (Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (July 29, 1997)) ISBN 0375700366, ISBN 978-0375700361
- Assuming the Risk: The Mavericks, the Lawyers, and the Whistle-Blowers Who Beat Big Tobacco by Michael Orey (Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (September 7, 1999)) ISBN 0316664898, ISBN 978-0316664899