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Commentary |

Public Health Benefits of Recent Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry

Jon S. Vernick, JD, MPH; Lainie Rutkow, JD, MPH; Stephen P. Teret, JD, MPH
JAMA. 2007;298(1):86-89. doi:10.1001/jama.298.1.86.
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As with lawsuits involving other dangerous products, litigation against the tobacco industry can serve several important functions. Lawsuits can compensate individuals harmed by the product and can serve a public health purpose by encouraging manufacturers to change their products, sales, or marketing strategies to reduce risks. Information obtained in litigation also can be used to support future regulatory action.1

Litigation against the tobacco industry has met with mixed success.2 Between 1954 and 1994, private citizens filed more than 800 lawsuits against tobacco manufacturers.3 The tobacco companies achieved great success in court during this time by challenging the science that tied smoking to negative health consequences, by arguing that smokers knew they were taking a risk when they smoked, and by suggesting that smokers' lifestyles, rather than smoking itself, contributed to their illnesses.4 Only 2 courts found in favor of a private citizen, and both of these decisions were subsequently reversed on appeal.5,6

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