U.S. Supreme Court leaves Florida jury awards intact in Engle cases — this is a big deal

Howard Engle

This is a continuation of the long-running Engle case in Florida.

Many years ago, a jury issued a $145 billion class action judgement against Big Tobacco for knowingly selling a toxic, addictive product to people, and then lying about it. This came to be known as the Engle case ($110 million settlement reached by Liggett Group in Engle case) , named after Howard Engle, one of the main plaintiffs. The Florida Supreme Court  overturned that ruling several years ago, but made a subtle and very important ruling in favour of the plaintiffs that while they could not sue for class action damages, they could individually sue Big Tobacco for the effects of its lies and cover ups on them on their families.

Since then, there’s been literally hundreds of lawsuits filed against Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds and Lorillard and many judgements have been handed out in the millions of dolalrs.

R.J. Reynolds appealed a number of these judgements (RJR has always been the most aggressive company in fighting anti-tobacco court cases and laws), to the U.S. Supreme Court. The total amount of the judgements is about $70 million (the largest single judgement is $25 million). The U.S. Supreme Court categorically refused to hear their appeal, in effect letting the judgements stand.

So, another loss in the courts for Big Tobacco; this is not the area in which they’re going to win much anymore. There is simply too much documentation, much of it coming out through the discovery process in countless lawsuits over the years against Big Tobacco, of the industry’s lies, subterfuge and cover-ups. They were selling a poisonous product and were killing people and they knew it. The evidence is all there.

There are thousands of these cases that will be tied up in the courts in Florida for the next 10 to 20 years. Keep forcing those tobacco company to pay and keep forcing them to pour millions into their legal fees. (Passing on their costs to the consumers and encouraging more people to save money by quitting — seriously, one of the reasons cigarettes are so expensive today compared to 20 years ago is because of all the legal expenses and the $280 billion Master Settlement Agreement reached by Big Tobacco.).


The country with the highest smoking rate — East Timor


If you had flat out asked me this question, what country has the highest smoking rate in the world, I might have said Belarus or Bulgaria, something like that. It’s not an Eastern European country, it’s a county called East Timor.

All right, having to whip out my atlas to see where the hell East Timor is.

East Timor is a tiny nation on the Indonesian island of Timor (but not part of Indonesia, sort of like Papua New Guinea.) It’s only 5,000 square miles and the population is about 1.1 million. It’s separate from Indonesia primarily because it was a longtime Portuguese colony, while most of the rest of Indonesia was colonised by the Dutch.

Anyway, enough geography lessons (reminds me of a really, really bad newspaper editor I once knew who for some mystifying reason decided to write a geography lesson sidebar about Yellowknife, NWT, because a fisherman from Yellowknife drowned in the area. Only problem was, throughout the article, he referred to it as “Yellowfish, NWT.” I had fun sending that article to the Yellowknife newspaper and seeing their angry editorial ripping on ignorant Americans. Anyway, I digress). According to this BBC article, East Timor has an incredible smoking rate of 61 percent among men — that percentage hasn’t been that high in America since about 1960. That’s just a shocking figure.

According to the article:

At the moment the big killer is tuberculosis but Dr Dan Murphy, a Canadian who’s been running a local hospital and clinic in Dili for 20 years, is worried about the future.

Some 80% of the world’s smokers live in developing countries and “young people are learning that what they’re supposed to do to be Western and advanced is to smoke cigarettes,” he says.

“Now we have to change their whole way of thinking and start worrying about tomorrow. I’m afraid we’re going to have to go through a phase of learning the hard lesson that’s been seen throughout poor countries.”

Another interesting part of the story is that East Timor has not seen a big influx of health problems connected to smoking. Why? Because it’s a brand new burgeoning market. Most of that 61 percent of men are young men who have only been smoking a few years. Give it another 10 and 20 years and watch East Timor’s medical infrastructure swamped with middle age men dying of COPD, heart disease and lung cancer.


What East Timor highlights is that the developing world, Third World, whatever you want to call it, is the future of the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry is in the midst of a long, slow decline in North America and western Europe. But, Africa and Asia markets await. Big Tobacco has been drooling over these markets for years (to the point where China very strictly controls western tobacco sales in its country).

These countries tend to be poor and don’t have the resources for tobacco education. Never mind the fact that the tobacco industry created a damn holocaust of death and disease in the West all during the 19th century, now that the West has gotten wise to the evils of tobacco, Big Tobacco wants to export their product to a new, unwitting market. It’s really beyond amoral, it’s just sick.

BTW, the BBC article created a nice infographic about the heaviest smoking countries in the world. I wasn’t far off with Bulgaria, it makes the top 6.

Countries with highest smoking rates

  • Kiribati
  • Macedonia
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Bulgaria
  • Tonga
  • East Timor

Figures for 2012. Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, published by JAMA

Kiribati is another country I’ve never heard of. Used to be called the Gilbert Islands.


USA Today, NBC News take on e-cig advertising


Good, it’s more than me who is bothered by e-cigarette marketing techniques and how they mirror cigarette marketing techniques from 20, 30, 40 years ago.

Both USA Today and NBC News jumped all over this story with extensive articles on a study in the journal Pediatrics explaining how much exposure children have to e-cig advertising.

Researchers from RTI International found that kids aged 12 to 17 experienced a 256 percent increase in exposure to ads touting e-cigs during the study period of 2011 to 2013. The exposure of young adults, those ages 18-24, increased by 321 percent.

Man, and it’s just a coincidence that e-cig use among teenagers has exploded in the last couple of years … right, e-cig industry?

I will reiterate. I don’t have a big problem with e-cigs. They apparently help some people quit smoking, are not nearly as toxic as cigarettes and the steam is not as toxic or annoying as cigarette smoke. I honestly have the attitude that if they genuinely help people quit cigarettes, more power to ’em and to their customers. However, I have a HUGE problem with some the e-cig advertising I have seen in the past year or two … ads making e-cigs look sexy and glamourous and cool. As the headline in the NBC News story reads: “The new Joe Camel?”

The problem is kids starting up with nicotine via e-cigs rather than cigarettes because of all the advertising they’ve seen making it look cool and hip. Nicotine is nicotine. I don’t care what the delivery system is. It’s incredibly addictive and really has little or no redeeming values. It also is bad for your blood pressure and can lead to further addictions (most drug addicts started using tobacco as their first drug — fact.)

According to the NBC News article (with a photo of that anti-vaccination loon — thanks for the return of childhood Measles, dimwit — and e-cig pitchwoman Jenny McCarthy):

The researchers used a common measurement to gauge how many people saw an e-cigarette, and how often they likely saw it. Based on that data, they estimated that 50.0 percent of all kids between the ages of 12 to 17 in U.S. TV households were exposed to an average of 21 e-cigarette ads from October 2012 through September 2013.

They also say data could represent an exposure to an average of 105 advertisements for 10 percent of all U.S. youth or an exposure to an average of 13 ads for 80% of all U.S. youth over the 1-year period.

Those numbers have researchers and other public health advocates worried.

“We don’t know the extent to which an e-cigarette is really a gateway to other tobacco products,” explains lead researcher Dr. Jennifer Duke, senior public health analyst at RTI. “What we do know is that nicotine spurs changes in the brain that leads to addiction. And no one knows what the ramifications of e-cigarettes and potential addiction will be.”

USA Today’s article is titled “An explosion of youth exposure to e-cig ads”

In the USA Today story:

Results of the new media study provide “the strongest evidence that there has been an absolute explosion of youth exposure to e-cigarette advertising on television,” says Matthew Myers, president of the advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“It’s particularly disturbing precisely because Congress removed cigarette advertising from television because of the unique impact TV advertising has on young people,” Myers says. ” When e-cigarette manufacturers say that they don’t market to minors, it’s deja vu all over again. This study demonstrates the importance of FDA moving rapidly and decisively to protect our nation’s children.”

What’s especially galling to me about this is the Food and Drug Administration does have some power over e-cigs. The agency has recommended, finally, banning the sales of e-cigs and while advocates were hoping to some rules on e-cig advertising, the FDA deferred on this issue. It’s an OK first step, but the FDA needs to do more to try to prevent kids from taking up e-cigs.



Anti-soda activists look to war on cigarettes as a model with warning labels

Benjamin Lesczynski takes a sip of a "Big Gulp" while protesting the proposed "soda-ban," that New York City Mayor Bloomberg has suggested, outside City Hall in New York
French Press Agency (AFP)

Interesting article from Raw Story and the French News Agency (which does a lot of articles on tobacco and e-cigs).

Activists trying to fight obesity in kids and adults got together at the Center for Science in the Public Interest to discuss how to combat the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. One of their proposals was to copy a technique used by anti-tobacco advocates many, many years ago –legislation calling for warning labels on surgery drinks. It’s not as goofy as it sounds. Such a bill has already passed the State Senate in California.

The language is similar to warning labels for cigarettes: “Drinking beverages with added sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

“Give people the information at least,” said Harold Goldstein, one of the doctors and experts who attended the “Soda Summit.”

 “Once they have the information, then they will be ready for more.”

Now a warning label isn’t going to stop a 10-year-old kid from buying a soda, but maybe just maybe it will make parents think before buying a 12-pack of Coke for their kids if they are seeing that warning on the box.

Interesting, I have seen the period between 1960 and 2000 often referred to as either the “Tobacco War” or the “Cigarette War.” This article references the “Soda War.” I guess with the severe epidemic of diabetes, especially in the Deep South, it’s reaching the same level of urgency as the battle against tobacco 50 years ago (which obviously lingers to this day, or I wouldn’t be here doing this.).

The good news is, the education is having an effect:

“The signs of early victories in this war are that soda consumption, particularly consumption of sugar sweetened sodas, is down significantly” from a peak in 1998, said Jim Krieger, an organizer. “People are getting the message.”

Annual US consumption has dropped from 55 gallons to 44 gallons, a 17 percent decline, and water consumption has increased 38 percent over that period.