Both rulings leave the door open for major lawsuits and there is still at least one large potential class action suit before a federal judge. Despite a Florida tobacco class action being thrown out and a failure to make tobacco companies pay for anti-smoking programs, tobacco companies could still wind up paying big bucks in future lawsuits.
On July 6, 2006, the Florida Supreme Court dismissed a major case against tobacco makers. This class action lawsuit threatened to cost the companies $145 billion in damages. In its decision, the Florida Supreme Court said that the $145 billion award would "result in an unlawful crippling of defendant companies."
Meanwhile, in August of this year a federal judge ruled that U.S. cigarette makers, including Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds and British American Tobacco, violated anti-racketeering laws. They did so by claiming that low-tar brands were healthier alternatives to the full-flavored cigarettes. In her ruling, Judge Kessler chastised tobacco companies for marketing their products "with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted."
Despite this ruling, some anti-smoking activists believe tobacco companies won because the judge did not order the companies to fund programs to help smokers kick their habit. The government was seeking money from tobacco companies to fund such programs and reduce youth smoking. Judge Kessler denied the funding because she does not have the authority to order such a program.
Initially, the government's claim against tobacco companies was $280 billion. By the end of the trial, the claim was reduced to $14 billion. This reduction was the result of numerous court decisions that weakened the case against the tobacco industry. One such decision saw the Court of Appeals throw out the $280 billion claim, stating that the government could only prevent future violations of the racketeering act.
In a response to the ruling, William V. Corr, Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called for Congress to take action against the tobacco industry. "It is time for Congress to finally end the special protection accorded the tobacco industry and pass this legislation, which would grant the FDA authority to crack down on marketing and sales to children, stop the tobacco companies from misleading consumers and require changes in tobacco products to make them less harmful and less addictive," he said.
However, tobacco companies still face many threats. The Florida decision in Engle allows for individual lawsuits to be filed against cigarette makers. Some law firms in Florida expect more than 100,000 cases to be filed.
There is also a large potential class action suit before a federal judge. This suit claims companies deliberately lied about the health risks of low-tar cigarettes. Plaintiffs in this suit are seeking $120 billion in damages. This suit will likely be helped by Judge Kessler's decision that tobacco companies violated anti-racketeering laws.
Tobacco companies have clearly lied about the risks associated with smoking cigarettes. Thousands of people have had their lives torn apart thanks to these lies. Tobacco companies have targeted children in their ads and have misled consumers for far too long. It's time these companies were held accountable for their actions.