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Alaska Tobacco Case — Was it about smoke and mirrors again?


As I have written many times before, I believe in the jury system, but it requires a well-informed jury, given all the facts and evidence, to arrive at a just decision. Based upon my own research and the below discussion, I must conclude that, more likely than not, the jurors in the case of Hunter v Phillip Morris resulted in a less than full disclosure of the evidence relating to the outrageous conduct of the tobacco industry.

I have read many, many of the documents that comprise those involving Big Tobacco’s evolution in the development and production of cigarettes; evolution and production because what most people think of as tobacco was abandoned by cigarette manufacturers decades ago. What they sold and continue to sell to Americans and the rest of the world is a chemically engineered plant that they have called “the best drug delivery system” ever created.

A federal judge, Judge Gladys Kessler, has also read the documents, heard the testimony and saw fit to condemn Big Tobacco for sins against the American public:

  • These cases are about an industry that profits from selling a highly addictive product that causes a staggering number of deaths each year and Big Tobacco has known about the dangers for more than 50 years.
  • “Defendants have marketed and sold their lethal products with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.”
  • “Over the course of more than 50 years, Defendants lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public, including smokers and the young people they avidly sought as ‘replacement’ smokers about the devastating health effects of smoking and environmental tobacco smoke.”
  • “The evidence in this case clearly establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity…. For example, most Defendants continue to fraudulently deny the adverse health effects of secondhand smoke which they recognized internally; all Defendants continue to market “low tar” cigarettes to consumers seeking to reduce their health risks or quit; all Defendants continue to fraudulently deny that they manipulate the nicotine delivery of their cigarettes in order to create and sustain addiction; some Defendants continue to deny that they market to youth in publications with significant youth readership and with imagery that targets youth; and some Defendants continue to  suppress and conceal information which might undermine their public or litigation position…. Their continuing conduct misleads consumers in order to maximize Defendants’ revenues by recruiting new smokers (the majority of whom are under the age of 18), preventing current smokers from quitting, and thereby sustaining the industry.”
  • “Despite Their Internal Knowledge, Defendants Continued, From 1964 Onward, to Falsely Deny and Distort the Serious Health Effects of Smoking”
  • “As of 2005, Defendants Still Do Not Admit the Serious Health Effects of Smoking Which They Recognized Internally Decades Ago”

Even a powerful industry like the tobacco companies does not hide, deceive or scheme on their own, though. Judge Kessler also has interesting things to say about lawyers that have counseled and defended the tobacco companies for all these decades:

  • “At every stage, (Big Tobacco’s) lawyers played an absolutely central role in the creation and perpetuation of the Enterprise and the implementation of its fraudulent schemes. They devised and coordinated both national and international strategy; they directed scientists as to what research they should and should not undertake; they vetted scientific research papers and reports as well as public relations materials to ensure that the interests of the Enterprise would be protected; they identified “friendly” scientific witnesses, subsidized them with grants from the Center for Tobacco Research and the Center for Indoor Air Research, paid them enormous fees, and often hid the relationship between those witnesses and the industry; and they devised and carried out document destruction policies and took shelter behind baseless assertions of the attorney client privilege.”
  • Through their recruiting and training of consultants around the world, Defendants created a cadre of seemingly independent consultants to support the industry’s position on secondhand smoke and to create the impression that a legitimate controversy existed among independent scientists. The global effort to create and manage this program required intense coordination among the companies and their counsel [outside lawyers].

When an objective eye is turned upon all the evidence relating to the conduct of the tobacco industry the conclusions are inescapable. So, how can jurors reach differing verdicts? The lawyers representing Big Tobacco are some of the best in the nation, possibly the world. They have had decades to refine arguments that may convince even the most experienced jurist  to exclude certain relevant evidence.

For example, in a tobacco case brought since the issuance of the Surgeon General’s report on smoking in the 1960’s and after warning labels were put on cigarettes, it might be argued that any evidence of conspiracy or fraud on the part of the tobacco companies that occurred prior to the 1960’s should be kept from the jury. Tobacco lawyers regularly challenge the experts employed by plaintiffs by arguing that those experts are simply reinterpreting prior studies from the past and have done no “independent” testing of their own. The fact is the tobacco industry spent millions of dollars “creating” research results and conducting studies that would bring forth the evidence they wanted revealed; so, actually conducting a study has questionable value.

Once all evidence of Big Tobacco’s conspiracies, fraudulent tactics and deceptive practices hits the “light of day” it Tobacco’s arguments go up in smoke.

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Posted By: Bud Wilder