Select Page

A few of the most famous lawsuits in the past thirty or so years have involved Big Tobacco. It’s hard to imagine this today, however up until the 1970s most Americans smoked. It wasn’t just socially acceptable, it was almost expected. People smoked in restaurants, on airplanes and sometimes even in elevators.


Doctors had known for years that smoking had negative side effects. However, some of them recommended it as a weight-loss aid. In fact, many cigarette brands competed on the basis of health promises, a tactic which came back to haunt them by the 1980s. At that point, juries found that the advertising campaigns constituted a promise about safety. Juries felt that customers had been taken in by the cigarette makers, and awarded plaintiffs big money in some cases.


Even though some decisions like Cipollone v. Liggett Group were eventually overturned, they were still important moments in legal and cultural history. They showed that it really was possible to hold tobacco companies responsible for the devastation caused by their products. One of the key factors in that case was the date that Mrs. Cipollone started smoking. It was generally understood that when warning labels started to appear in 1966, people understood the risk. However, since Rose Cipollone had started smoking and become addicted in the 1940s, hers was a great case to go before the courts.


Another set of lawsuits pitted governments against the tobacco industry. Taxpayers had been burdened with expensive care for addicts who were now developing smoking-related diseases. In a Master Settlement, 46 states and the District of Columbia, along with some counties and cities, received a settlement of hundreds of billions of dollars. Later on, the four remaining states of Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi and Texas separately arrived at settlements with Big Tobacco, too.


As part of the Master Settlement, tobacco companies agreed to change the way they advertise their products. That’s why cartoon characters like Joe Camel, which arguably targeted youths, went away. Restrictions on branded merchandise giveaways and billboard advertising were also a very important part of the Master Settlement. The restrictions on marketing also had a big impact on the number of consumers tobacco has. By reducing the number of smokers, states reduced their long-term costs.