May. 21 2003
Washington, D.C. — A Florida appeals court ruling today overturning a $145 billion verdict against the major tobacco companies only puts more responsibility on Congress and the Bush Administration to enact a national tobacco policy that curtails the harmful tobacco industry practices that led to this judgment in the first place. The mountain of evidence of tobacco company wrongdoing that led to the initial jury verdict cries out for Congress to pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration full and effective authority over tobacco products. Today's ruling also makes it more important that states take action to reduce the harm caused by tobacco use by funding comprehensive tobacco prevention programs, increasing cigarette taxes, and enacting smoke-free indoor workplace policies that protect the public from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. As we have stated all along, while this case was an important step in holding the tobacco industry responsible for the harm it has caused, it is not a substitute for policies designed to reduce the number of kids who start and the number of people who die from tobacco use.
This decision concerned whether the case, known as Engle, should have been tried as a class-action lawsuit. It in no way absolves the tobacco industry of the decades of deception and wrongdoing that led a jury to assess the largest punitive damage award in history. It does not question the jury's findings that the tobacco companies have engaged in a broad spectrum of wrongful acts that caused enormous amounts of death and disease, that the tobacco companies' victims deserve compensation, and that substantial punitive damages against the companies are warranted. It is also likely to be but one step in a long appeals process.