TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Berman on Tobacco Litigation and E-Cigarettes

Micah Berman has posted to SSRN Tobacco Litigation, E-Cigarettes, and the Cigarette Endgame.  The abstract provides:

Among his many contributions to the field of public health law, Professor Richard Daynard is perhaps best known for (a) advancing the idea that affirmative litigation, particularly against the tobacco industry, can serve as an effective public health tool, (b) introducing the discussion of an “endgame,” in which the commercial sale of cigarettes—the most deadly form of tobacco use—is phased out. This article unites these two topics and analyzes the potential for affirmative litigation to hasten the end of commercial cigarette sales.

In recent years, the major tobacco companies have suggested that they support moving towards a “smoke-free world,” with non-combustible nicotine products such as e-cigarettes gradually replacing more harmful cigarette smoking. Though this rhetoric is deeply cynical—these same companies continue to spend heavily to promote their cigarette brands—it may nonetheless create a window of opportunity for litigants. Past litigation against tobacco companies has foundered on the absence of a “reasonable alternative design” for cigarettes. Today, the tobacco companies’ own statements can be used to show the availability of such alternatives. More importantly, now-public documents from the tobacco industry’s archives help establish the case for treating e-cigarettes as a “reasonable alternative design” for cigarettes. These documents show that the major tobacco companies developed the essential components of e-cigarette technology decades ago, but they chose not to commercialize these products because they feared they would prove to be viable alternatives to cigarettes.

This article reviews how the introduction of e-cigarettes may reinvigorate products liability litigation against the manufacturers of conventional cigarettes. Building on the work of Professor Daynard, it also considers how these lawsuits, even if ultimately unsuccessful in court, might nonetheless benefit public health by pressuring the tobacco industry to live up to its public statements and by catalyzing legislative efforts to phase out the sale of cigarettes.

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