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New Lawsuit Tests Tobacco Industry Strategy


April 1995

A three-part series in the Wall Street Journal explores the origins of a landmark class action suit challenging the tobacco industry's contention that nicotine is not addictive (Milo Geyelin, "Smokers' Suit Tries New Approach: The Industry Made Them Do It," Wall Street Journal, Mar. 21, 1995, p. B1; Bridget O'Brian, "South Louisiana, Site or Lawsuit by Smokers, Is Puffers' Paradise," Wall Street Journal, Mar. 22, 1995, p. B1; Suein L. Hwang and Yumiko Ono, "Tobacco Dream Tean: Experts Who Insist Nicotine Isn't Addictive," Wall Street Journal, Mar. 23, 1995, p. B1).

The suit, which will be heard in federal court in Louisiana, seeks damages for approximately 50 million defendants who accuse the tobacco industry of fraud, misrepresentation, and intentional infliction of emotional stress. In past cases, tobacco companies have not been held liable for smokers' injuries and their loved ones' suffering because the labels on the cigarette packs warn consumers of the possible medical effects of smoking.

This case will attempt to hold the companies responsible for smokers' addiction by showing that the companies manipulated nicotine levels. Attorneys for the plaintiffs are expected to argue that tobacco companies knew that their products were addictive and did not warn smokers about the potential problems related to use. The plaintiffs will then be able to pursue a product defect case rather than a liability suit.

The tobacco industry is likely to argue that since many people quit smoking easily, tobacco is not addictive. Industry spokespeople say Louisiana is a favorable location for the trial because the state has a high population of smokers.