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The Engle Decision—A Decision of Courage by the Florida Supreme Court

06/6/2007
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BY

The Florida Supreme Court vacated a substantial verdict totaling hundreds of billions of dollars against some of the giants of Big Tobacco. So, how is it that the Court showed courage? Could it be that they showed courage because they vacated a verdict they knew could be attacked by the US Supreme Court?

The Engle class was comprised of hundreds of thousands of Florida smokers; all victimized by Big Tobacco; all sick, dying, or dead as the result of smoking one of the most addictive, non-regulated drugs in American history; and all powerless against the juggernaut of Big Tobacco’s corporate and political machine. A jury found Big Tobacco guilty in the injury and death of some plaintiffs; but, perhaps more importantly, the jury showed the courage to find that Big Tobacco had conducted a despicable campaign to hook cigarette users for the sole purpose of continuing to generate billions of profits. Big Tobacco conducted campaigns to expand the contingents of women, men, and, yes, children who were hooked and becoming hooked on cigarettes. Joe Camel was a cartoon character emanating “cool”; directly targeted toward young smokers.

The “Joe Camel” campaign was a well planned, well paid for marketing campaign that included much more than simple print ads:

* Cool by Association

TIM (Big Tobacco’s media scheme) involved sending trendily-dressed, good-looking models into nightclubs to smoke Camels and hand them out to other club patrons, giving bartenders embroidered leather jackets, paying the club owner to install low-key camel paraphernalia, etc.

This document was a trial exhibit in the Mangini case (Mangini v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Civil Case No. 939359). You can read the entire document on the University of San Francisco web site: http://galen.library.ucsf.edu/tobacco/mangini/html/i/082/

If Jack Daniels had formulated a campaign of “Jack Black” and made even the slightest effort to target teens to lure them to drinking whiskey, the public would understandably be up in arms. But, we have had 100 years of Big Tobacco working on the romance, sexiness, and health of smoking cigarettes; so perhaps we have become immune to this sort of propaganda. Perhaps we have become immune to the manipulations of an industry who has spent billions defending and glamorizing a drug they know to be dangerous to all those who use it.

The Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Engle opened the door to allow smokers to seek a justice to which they have every right to seek. An opportunity to have a jury hear their case and to bring an industry in the light of day. The Court righted what was probably an incorrect method of pursuing cases in which all the smokers had differing damage claims. The Court did the right thing. All this was done within the confines of the Florida courts and Florida law. So, why has Big Tobacco appealed to the US Supreme Court over a case that involved Florida law, Florida courts, and, most importantly, the rights of Florida citizens?

Perhaps we will need to wait and see if the US Supreme Court bails Big Tobacco out and finds some basis that Florida citizens should be denied the rights granted by Florida law, in Florida courts.

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