Tobacco abuse continues to be the most common preventable and/or treatable health problem, which is responsible for or contributes to roughly one-half of the deaths that occur in the United States each year. Since this is well over 1,000,000 deaths, the problems of impact on health, economic expenditures, and productivity losses are enormous. For these and other reasons there are major tobacco lawsuits filed today in Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Mississippi, at latest count. What the states are trying to accomplish in their suits is the recovery of economic damages paid to Medicaid and Medicare for the tobacco-related diseases. Fortunately, the old defense used by tobacco lawyers, which focuses on assumption of risk and contributory negligence by the patients, cannot be used in defense of these tobacco claims according to the ruling of a Mississippi judge in February of 1995. Whether or not this ruling will stand appeal remains to be seen. It is also a deplorable fact that the tobacco industry is pouring a huge amount of money into the coffers of state and federal legislators in order to dissuade them from levying responsible taxes on tobacco. Remember that tobacco actually kills over 460,000 people each year, even when used as intended.
A major class action lawsuit certified in Louisiana and known as the A Castano case and two other class action suits have been filed in Florida. One of these has been filed on behalf of all current or former smokers who may have suffered damage due to the addicting effect of tobacco. Everyone knows that nicotine is addicting and the Environmental Protection Agency has labeled tobacco as a Class A carcinogen with no safe level of inhalation. These strong positions can still be eroded through the power of tobacco money.
But against the huge odds that have rendered virtually every lawsuit for damages from tobacco vulnerable to the power of tobacco interests and their money, no less than 62 law firms, each contributing over $1 million each per year, are now seeking approximately $50 billion in damages on behalf of the millions of people who have been harmed through tobacco addiction. Nonetheless, the tobacco industry continues to argue under oath to Congress that tobacco is non-addicting.
There will be many interesting developments in these legal battles over the next few months. Reasonable people who become jurors and carefully review the evidence cannot help but find against the tobacco industry. But the rascals will continue to spend $4 billion a year in advertising designed to seduce 3,000 teenagers into the bondage of addiction because such advertising is allowed. That's $10 million per year to cause bad health and disease. This seems to be an unforgivable assault on our youth even if it is not a crime. We'll all keep hoping for the best.
I'll be in touch next month.
Thomas Petty, MD