Chewing Tobacco Company Settles Wrongful Death Suit For $5 Million

U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. has just agreed to a $5 million payout to the family of a man in a <"">wrongful death lawsuit, said the Associated Press (AP). Bobby Hill died of mouth cancer associated with chewing tobacco. U.S. Smokeless Tobacco manufactures Copenhagen and Skoal brands chewing tobacco.

Acquired by Altria in 2009, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., was formerly based in Greenwich, Connecticut. An attorney for the plaintiff’s family told the AP, “This company manufactures and sells a dangerous and defective product that it knows causes addiction, diseases, and death in consumers who use it as intended.”

According to Mark Gottlieb, director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern School of Law in Boston, “I think this is sort of a wake-up call to the plaintiff’s bar that there are a lot of victims of smokeless tobacco use out there and it’s possible these cases can be successful,” quoted the AP. “The cigarette is sort of the dirty needle of nicotine delivery,” Gottlieb added.

Although industry has typically fought these types of cases, noted Gottlieb, “… this is an unusual instance and runs counter to what had been the sort of the playbook for tobacco litigation,” quoted the AP. “I think that’s one of the things that makes this wrongful death settlement intriguing. Perhaps there is a new strategy afoot in terms of dealing with some of these types of cases,” Gottlieb pointed out, reported the AP.

Of note, said Gottlieb, the quick turnaround could be attributed to Altria’s desire to close the case now and clear up legal issues left from the acquisition, versus risking the outcome of a trial, said the AP.

The lawsuit was filed in 2005 by Hill’s wife, Kelly, said the AP. Hill died of cancer of the tongue at age 42; he had been chewing the firm’s so-called “spit” tobaccos since he was 13 years old, said the AP.

Last month, another wrongful death lawsuit was filed against tobacco giant, Lorillard, the third largest tobacco company in the United States. That lawsuit was filed by the son of a woman who allegedly received free cigarettes as a child in a supposed attempt by the tobacco maker to entice black children to become smokers, said the AP previously.

Willie Nelson alleged that Lorillard used illegal marketing to get his mother, Marie—who was nine years old at the time—to smoke Newport cigarettes, forming an addiction she battled her entire life, said the AP. Prior to her death, Marie testified in depositions that she was nine when she was first given free cigarettes. She began smoking when she was 13 and died 40 years later of lung cancer, said the AP. When Marie was receiving her free samples in Boston, Massachusetts state law prohibited such acts, said the AP, noting that Lorillard broke the law in its attempts to create new smokers. According to the lawsuit, the program was “designed to attract African-American children and teenagers and to place cigarettes in their hands,” said the lawsuit, quoted the AP.

The National Cancer Institute points out that smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer, esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer and may also cause heart disease, gum disease, and oral lesions other than cancer, such as leukoplakia (precancerous white patches in the mouth). At least 28 chemicals in smokeless tobacco have been found to cause cancer.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in America, with cigarettes linked to some 443,000 deaths and $100 billion spent in healthcare costs annually. Menthol cigarettes, said CNN previously, account for about 25 percent of all the cigarettes sold in the United States and—along with all flavored cigarettes—have been under examination by health officials and watchdog groups over claims that the menthol flavor makes cigarettes more addictive and that marketing campaigns are targeting minorities.

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