Public-Health Scientist Urges Attorneys General: Don't Sign 'Global Settlement' Granting Cigarette Companies Immunity from Lawsuits

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A leading public-health scientist today advised state attorneys general against signing a pending deal with the tobacco industry a deal that would give the industry immunity from individual or class-action lawsuits. Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, stated in a letter to the attorneys general, "Such a settlement would be contrary to the interests of public health and will mean that you will forever be known as having sold out to the tobacco industry."

The attorneys general of the 29 states that have sued the tobacco companies for Medicare expenses are considering a "global settlement": one that would grant cigarette companies total immunity from individual and class-action law suits in return for payments into a fund. According to a recent report they are close to agreeing on a settlement that would severely restrict current smokers' ability to bring suits, and that would make it almost impossible for future smokers to receive compensation for the most common tobacco-related illnesses.

Says Dr. Whelan, "If the industry is granted immunity, or a 'fund' is created to compensate successful litigants, the cigarette industry will achieve the type of business security that will allow it to thrive well into the next century." If the threat of litigation is removed, she warns, "the cigarette industry will continue marketing an inherently unsafe product, advertising to children, and getting another generation hooked on its wares."

Dr. Whelan proposes that the cigarette companies be treated as any other company in the United States: They should have their day in court, and juries should decide each case. "Of course," said Dr. Whelan to the attorneys general, "if you and your state would decide to settle with one or more of the tobacco companies for the state costs of treating residents harmed by cigarettes, that is perfectly fine. But," she urged, "do not be part of a deal that attempts to settle matters beyond your state borders. The industry ultimately must be held responsible for the consequences of its behavior."