Florida jury awards $260,000 to Tampa smoker (FL)
A jury in Tampa, Florida has awarded Leroy Kirkland $260,000 in compensatory and punitive damages in an “Engle-progeny” case against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Kirkland claimed that he developed cancer and emphysema after smoking Pall Mall and Salem cigarettes for several decades, and sought $10 billion in punitive damages, the largest award ever requested by an individual. Kirkland was originally awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages, but the compensatory damages were reduced to $10,000 after the jury found him 90% responsible for his illness. Lawyers for R.J. Reynolds have not decided whether to appeal the verdict. “Engle progeny” cases stem from a class-action lawsuit thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006, and over 8,000 related individual claims have been filed in Florida since then. Get more information here and here.
Legal Consortium files smoke-free housing amicus brief: Schuman v. Greenbelt Homes (MD)
In January, the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium and its partners filed a friend-of-the court brief with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in the case of Schuman v. Greenbelt Homes. The case involves a dispute about secondhand smoke between two neighbors living in adjoining townhouses. The Consortium's brief supports Plaintiff Schuman, a nonsmoker who claims cigarette smoke from his neighbor's premises migrates into his unit and creates a nuisance. The trial court rejected the nuisance claim and declined to order a stop to the smoking. The Consortium's brief takes issue with the court's characterization of secondhand smoke as an "offensive odor," rather than a severe health threat, and the perception that smoking outdoors eliminates the related health hazards. Click here to read the amicus brief, or click here to access other smoke-free housing resources from the Legal Consortium.
Twelve years on, tobacco suit due in court (MO)
A St. Louis court has begun trying a lawsuit filed against tobacco companies in 1998 by dozens of area hospitals. The hospitals are seeking compensation for the costs of treatment for smoking-related illnesses. Although a huge number of such cases have been filed by smokers themselves, this is one of only a few cases filed by third parties that have made it to trial. At one time, tobacco lawsuits were considered a means to financially devastate the tobacco industry by recovering the costs associated with tobacco-related illnesses. In retrospect, the deluge of tobacco lawsuits has had relatively a minimal financial effect on the industry. However, health experts recognize that the lawsuits, in combination with public health efforts, have changed the public’s attitude toward smoking over the years. Click here for more details.
State appeals judge's ruling nixing smoking ban exceptions (NE)
District Judge Jodi Nelson of Nebraska has ruled that some exemptions to the state’s smoke-free law are unconstitutional. Nebraska’s statewide smoke-free law went into effect in June 2009, prohibiting smoking in indoor worksites, but exempting tobacco shops, hotel rooms, and research facilities. The owner of an Omaha pool hall filed suit before the law was implemented, claiming that these businesses were unfairly given special treatment. In her ruling, Judge Nelson states that cigar bars, tobacco shops, and hotels are similar enough to other worksites that they should not be treated differently under the smoke-free law, and that employees of these businesses deserve the same protections from secondhand smoke as employees at bars, restaurants, and other worksites. State Attorney General Jon Bruning has noted in the past that the cigar bar exemption did not grant special privileges, as these establishments could not exist without an exemption. The state will appeal the case. Click here for more information.
NY attorney general sues websites selling cigarettes (NY)
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is suing the operators of six websites for selling cigarettes online to state residents; four vendors are charged with more than one incidence of illegal sales. State law prohibits the shipment of cigarettes to residents, except for tax agents and wholesale dealers. Each of the listed vendors is accused of accepting and delivering orders of cigarettes to New York addresses. A statement from the Attorney General’s office says that by selling cigarettes online, the vendors evaded taxes owed to the state and facilitated purchases by youth. The state is seeking penalties of up to $5,000 per violation and injunctions against any further sales. Click here for more information or here to read a statement from the New York Attorney General’s Office.
Tobacco Control Legal Consortium introduces the Consortium Bulletin e-newsletter
The Tobacco Control Legal Consortium is pleased to announce the Consortium Bulletin, a new monthly electronic publication that provides brief overviews of news headlines, resources, events, and legal developments that affect the tobacco control community. The Consortium Bulletin complements the Legal Consortium’s popular e-newsletter, the Legal Update, which contains longer tobacco law features and covers broader areas than state and local tobacco control issues. Email email@example.com to subscribe to the Consortium Bulletin, inquire about tobacco control laws and policies, or recommend topics for upcoming publications.
E-cigarette industry wins federal court victory
The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) petition to review its case against e-cigarette manufacturers has been rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. The FDA argued that e-cigarettes are drug or medical devices and therefore must have preapproval from the agency before being put on the market. Previously, a panel of judges decided that e-cigarettes are tobacco products, and must be regulated as such unless the manufacturers make claims that e-cigarettes help smokers quit or treat an illness. The court furthermore refused to reestablish a stay of a preliminary injunction that would prevent e-cigarettes from being imported. Click here to read more.
Government in new dispute with tobacco companies
Several members of the tobacco industry are disputing how the Justice Department will use corrective statements regarding the health effects of smoking. The disagreement stems from a 2006 ruling in which a judge determined that the tobacco industry had consistently concealed the dangers of smoking; corrective statements by the involved tobacco companies are designed to remedy the violation. The Justice Department prepared the corrective statements and intended to put them in the public record on March 3, but Altria Group Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. are arguing that the statements should not be made public until they have had the chance to review them and resolve any disagreements. Public health groups contend that the industry’s past misconduct should preclude any negotiations. Read more here.
Legal appeal delays tobacco display in Scotland (Scotland)
An appeal by Imperial Tobacco has delayed the implementation of Scotland’s ban on tobacco displays in shops. The company is appealing an earlier court dismissal of their case, which claimed that the law is unreasonable and that there is not enough evidence to support its effectiveness. The law was approved in early 2010, and aims to prevent youth tobacco initiation by prohibiting shops from displaying tobacco products and restricting cigarette vending machines. Originally, large retailers would have had to comply in October 2011 and smaller ones in 2013; ministers plan to reschedule these dates as soon as possible. Read more here.
KT&G wins appeal in S. Korea's first tobacco lawsuit (South Korea)
South Korea’s largest tobacco company, KT&G, has won an appeal that dismisses a case filed against the company by lung cancer patients and their families. The plaintiffs, a group of 31 lung cancer patients, claimed that they were not informed of the hazards of smoking and sued the company and the South Korean government in 1999, seeking about $274,000 in damages. The case was dismissed in 2007, with the judge deciding that KT&G had no further obligation to warn smokers about the dangers of cigarettes beyond package warnings that had been used since the 1970s. The judge in the appeal case ruled that although the link between smoking and lung cancer exists, there was not enough evidence that the company’s actions warrant the lawsuit. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said they are reviewing the court finding and will make a decision about appealing at a later date. Read more here.
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