Jul. 6 2006
Washington, DC — Although the Florida Supreme Court threw out the $145 billion punitive damage verdict, by upholding the jury’s findings that the tobacco companies have engaged in a broad range of wrongful actions, they have opened the way for hundreds of thousands of individuals in Florida through a streamlined, less-costly process to pursue their cases against the tobacco industry for both compensatory and punitive damages.
While disappointing, this ruling is not the clear-cut victory the tobacco industry was hoping for. The ruling does not absolve the tobacco industry of the decades of deception and wrongdoing that led a jury in July 2000 to assess the largest punitive damage award in history. In fact, this decision does just the opposite.
Despite the tobacco companies’ claims that they have changed, just last year the Department of Justice presented evidence in federal court that they continue to engage in the same conduct that resulted in the adverse verdict in this case, including marketing to children and deceiving consumers about the health risks of smoking.
Today’s Florida Supreme Court ruling places even more responsibility on Congress and the Administration to curtail the tobacco industry’s harmful practices. The mountain of evidence of tobacco company wrongdoing cries out for Congress to pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products. This legislation would finally stop the tobacco companies from targeting our children and deceiving consumers about the health risks of their deadly products. This ruling also underscores the need for states to redouble their efforts to implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use, including well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs, tobacco tax increases and smoke-free workplace laws.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in our country, killing more than 400,000 people and costing us more than $89 billion in health care bills every year. The tobacco companies must be held accountable for the wrongful practices that have caused and continue to cause so much harm. And elected officials at all levels must be held accountable if they fail to enact policies to stop the industry’s harmful practices and reduce tobacco’s terrible toll.