Jul. 14 2000
Washington, DC — Today's stunning $145 billion verdict against the five major tobacco companies is the largest punitive damage judgement in history, but it is entirely warranted. For more than 40 years, the tobacco industry has known that it is responsible for more than one-third of all deaths from cancer and heart disease in the United States. For all this time, the industry has continued to lie about its deadly products and has done nothing to stop the carnage. The Florida jury rightly concluded that the tobacco industry has caused more harm to more people over a longer period of time than any other industry in history. Now Big Tobacco must pay for all the damage it has caused to Florida families and for the generations of Florida kids it has addicted. When you engage in wrongdoing of an unprecedented scope, you deserve to be subjected to an unprecedented penalty.
While the Engle decision is a critical step in holding the tobacco industry responsible for what it has done, it is not a substitute for a national tobacco policy designed to reduce the number of kids who start and the number of people who die from tobacco use. The mountain of evidence of tobacco company wrongdoing that produced this verdict cries out for Congress to give the FDA full authority to regulate all phases of tobacco marketing and production.
The tobacco companies have raised the possibility of bankruptcy for the industry as the result of the Engle decision. Although bankruptcy is a possible outcome for some tobacco companies, the threat is overblown and premature. The $246 billion 1998 settlement with the states has shown that the tobacco companies are more than able to meet their legal obligations by raising the price of their products. This decision will not be the death knell for the tobacco industry. There are 46 million smokers in the United States today, and there will be 46 million smokers in the United States tomorrow. If some of the tobacco companies go out of business as the result of the Engle punishment, others will quickly be created to fill the void and share in the multi-billion dollar profit from tobacco sales.
The tobacco industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the last two years trying to buy a change in public perception. Industry lawyers argued during the Engle trial that the tobacco companies don't market to kids and no longer hide the dangers of smoking. But while those arguments were being made, tobacco advertisements still appeared in publications with high youth readership, and tobacco lawyers in other courtrooms denied that smoking is addictive or disease causing. The Engle jury heard the evidence and concluded that those making a deadly product and lying about it for decades should receive the most severe penalty available. The tobacco industry's chickens have finally come home to roost.