Tobacco Companies — Finally Being Brought to Justice

by Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley

“We are reformed and vow never to be evil, devious, conspiratorial, deceitful, designing, tricky, conniving, underhanded or murderous ever again!”

So goes the paraphrased prostrations of lawyer Jeff Furr, representing one of the most diabolical industries that has ever existed in America – Big Tobacco. Mr. Furr was trying to convince a jury to have pity upon his client, RJ Reynolds; even after awarding this law firm’s client, Gwendolyn Odom, $6,000,000 against RJ Reynolds for killing her mother with cigarettes, .

Mr. Furr argued Big Tobacco was reformed and although their conduct may have not been sterling in the past, they have been trying. Mr. Furr asked the jury:

What has changed since the day Juanitaq Thurston quit smoking in 1987?”, he asked jurors, “Everything.”

In the past, though; for decades in the past, Big Tobacco regularly and as a pattern:

  • Had conducted campaigns to addict children to smoking;
  • Had spent millions trying to manipulate the levels of nicotine in cigarettes to keep addicts addicted;
  • Had its CEO’s boldly swear under oath that cigarettes were not addictive;
  • Had used every advertising gimmick known (and some they invented) to romanticize cigarette smoking;
  • Had participated in trying addict soldiers who fought in most of America’s wars,; and
  • Had regularly produced a product that caused cancer while supporting medical researchers who concluded that cigarettes did not cause cancer.

But, Mr. Furr argued they have changed. Big Tobacco has become good corporate citizens have stopped lying to Americans. RJ Reynolds, after all, now has a website where Mr. Furr says they publicize the hazards of smoking and they produce electronic cigarettes now; a product that no one is really sure what hazards are posed.

But, let’s look at that RJR website. What is the first paragraph on the site:

“What does transforming tobacco mean? It means helping to resolve some of the controversial issues related to the use of tobacco as we advance our commercial objectives. We can meet society’s expectations for how a tobacco company should operate while growing our businesses.”

They are going to “transform tobacco” and “resolve some of the controversial issues related” to tobacco. Not exactly a confession of a dangerous product or recognition of past bad conduct.\

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s Big Tobacco also had an opportunity to “turn over a new leaf” and “do better” than they had been. That was when the FTC seized documents from many of the companies and conducted investigations of their advertising. The FTC found many things, including:

Regarding medical evidence — “The tobacco industry not only does not accept the conclusion mandated by the weight of the evidence, it has actively attempted to discredit that evidence.”

Regarding admissions of wrongdoing, the FTC found a memo that set forth the mantra: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the body of fact that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also a means of establishing a controversy.”

In 1975 Brown & Williamson (ultimately to become RJ Reynolds) hired an advertising firm to prepare a strategy for attracting young smokers to Viceroy cigarettes. The ad agency recommended several strategies for attracting young smokers, including:

  • Present cigarettes as one of a few initiations into the adult world.
  • Present the cigarette as part of the illicit pleasure category of products and activities.
  • Relate the cigarette to pot, wine, beer, sex, etc.
  • Do NOT communicate health or health related points.

So, what has changed since the day Juanita Thurston quit smoking in 1987? What really has changed is:

Big Tobacco has been unmasked;

The tobacco companies have been reined in by federal and state governments and, because they could not control themselves, the government stepped in and did it for them;

Tobacco can no longer advertise and has been gelded from advertising at best what was deceptive, if not fraudulent;

Society has shunned smoking and smokers. Smoking is unacceptable and discouraged more today than for 100 years;

Lawsuits in which Big Tobacco may no longer hide evidence has produced vast amounts of documents that depict tobacco companies who are evil, devious, conspiratorial, deceitful, designing, tricky, conniving, underhanded and callous to human lives.

So, what has changed is that Big Tobacco’s “day of reckoning has finally arrived and after reining over a multi-billion dollar per year industry for decades, Big Tobacco is being made to pay the fiddler.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley | Attorney Advertising

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