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Tobacco Liability and Public Health Policy

Larry O. Gostin, JD; Allan M. Brandt, PhD; Paul D. Cleary, PhD
JAMA. 1991;266(22):3178-3182. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03470220094035.
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IN MARCH 1991, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Cipollone v Liggett Group,1 a tobacco liability suit. The Cipollone case gained notoriety in 1988 when it became the first instance in which a jury awarded damages to a plaintiff to compensate harms caused by the use of cigarettes. Since the 1950s, more than 300 such suits had been filed, few had come to trial, and none had been victorious prior to the Cipollone case.2,3 The Supreme Court will decide whether the federally mandated warning labels on cigarette packages preempt tort actions claiming that manufacturers failed to adequately warn or misled consumers about the health hazards of smoking.

The Court's decision is likely to have profound implications not only for tobacco use and policy in the United States, but for the impact of product liability law on fundamental issues of public health and social policy.


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