Blog: If Drug Dealers Can Be Found Criminally Liable, Can Big Tobacco?
Description: Drug dealers can and have been charged with murder or manslaughter when death results from the drugs they sold. This same logic could apply to Big Tobacco.
Quote: The inevitable question is then- Do you think that tobacco companies could be held criminally responsible for the tobacco-related deaths of their customers?”
Corporations that Kill: The Criminal Liability of Tobacco Manufacturers
Description: An overview of the concept and the law behind criminal liability, from an Australian criminal law journal.
Quote: “A reasonable company, upon discovering that its products posed a serious threat of death or injury, would either withdraw those products from sale or would render them safe. Clearly, tobacco manufacturers have taken no such steps and, in fact, continue to promote their products and to manufacture them in ways which make it more likely that people will become addicted to them. In doing so, they pose a high risk of death or grievous bodily harm to the public and a jury may find that such conduct, in the circumstances, merits criminal punishment.”
The death toll from tobacco: a crime against humanity?
Description: A Tobacco Control Journal letter to the editor that discusses the possibility that the deaths caused by tobacco corporations could be considered a crime against humanity and tried in the International Criminal Court
Quote: “Based on current trends, WHO estimates that the death toll from smoking will rise to 10 million people per year by the year 2025. No other consumer product in the history of the world has come even close to inflicting this degree of harm on the world community. If anything else posed a threat to life of this magnitude, whether human induced or naturally occurring—be it world war, genocide or “ethnic cleansing”, natural disaster, or disease—it would demand immediate international action.”
What Penalty for Purveyors of Death?
Description: An L.A. Times article discussing potential criminal liability in the United States.
Quote: “Since more than a quarter of a century of public health warnings, trumped by many billions of dollars more in tobacco marketing, have not slowed the body count, what must a country do? On paper, America values human life over profit.”
Organized Tobacco’s Days Are Numbered
Description: A Jerusalem Post Article in which Amos Hausner, son of Gideon Hausner (who prosecuted Nazi Adolf Eichmann) states discusses the end of tobacco, including potential charges of crimes against humanity.
Quote: “’Today, we are in the midst of an irreversible process that will lead to the termination of organized tobacco,’ he said. ‘The environment will be completely tobacco-free. This is what people all over the world want.’”
Obama impressed with progress in Mujica’s Uruguay
Description: President Obama and President Mujica met to discuss, among other things, tobacco and the ongoing lawsuit between Uruguay and Philip Morris.
Quote: “In the world, eight million people die each year from smoking tobacco,” he said. This is mass murder.”
BP Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter in 2010 Gulf Oil Spill
Description: This L.A. Times article discusses the BP Oil spill case, particularly the charges of corporate manslaughter that resulted from the deaths of several workers. This could be very similar to charges levied against Big Tobacco.
Quote: “The agreement, announced in November, allowed a unit of the London-based oil giant to plead guilty Tuesday to 11 counts of seaman’s manslaughter in connection with the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the gulf.”
Relevant Case Law
Evans v. Lorillard (465 Mass. 411 (2013))
Description: A wrongful death lawsuit based on breached implied warranty of merchantability due to design defect. The plaintiff, the son of a deceased smoker, won the case.
Quote: “We decline to place addictive chemicals outside the reach of product liability and give them special protection akin to immunity based solely on the strength of their addictive qualities. To do so would eliminate any incentive for cigarette manufacturers to make safer perhaps the most dangerous product lawfully sold in the market through reasonable alternative designs.” [emphasis added]
Williams v. Philip Morris, Inc., 127 P.3d 1165, 1176-77 (2006)
Description: The widow of a smoker who died from lung cancer sued Philip Morris USA for fraud based on advertisements and sponsored studies that made cigarettes seem less dangerous than they actually were. The widow won the case.
Quote: “Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, Philip Morris’s actions, under the criminal statutes in place at the beginning of its scheme in 1954, would have constituted manslaughter. Today, its actions would constitute at least second-degree manslaughter, a Class B felony…Thus, the possibility of severe criminal sanctions, both for any individual who participated and for the corporation generally, put Philip Morris on notice that Oregon would take such conduct very seriously.”
Haglund v. Philip Morris (847 N.E. 2d 315 (2006))
Description: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously rejected the tobacco industry’s argument that a smoker is responsible for their own smoking habits (the “blame the smoker” defense. In Massachusetts, the personal choice defense is unavailable to the tobacco companies.
Quote: “If Philip Morris chooses to market an inherently dangerous product, it is at the very least perverse to allow the company to escape liability by showing only that its product was used for its ordinary purpose.”
Laws and Definitions
Description: the definition of manslaughter under the U.S. federal code
Quote: “Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. Involuntary—in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or in the commission in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection, of a lawful act which might produce death.”
Right to life
Description: the definition of “right to life” is found in several international documents. This definition is from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Quote: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.”
Right to health
Description: the definition of “right to health” is also found in numerous international documents. This quote is part of the definition found in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Quote: “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”
Crimes against Humanity
Description: the definition of “crimes against humanity” is also found in several international documents. This is the description as it applies to the International Criminal Court.
Quote: “Crimes against humanity” include any of the following acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack…murder…other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious bodily or mental injury.”
Mock Trial- Australia: lawyers ponder tobacco firms’ criminal liability
Description: Could tobacco companies be held criminally liable for their conduct, even if it were accepted that they have complied fully with all laws relating specifically to tobacco? A mock trial was conducted on this topic by universities in Australia.
Quote: “Of particular interest were two issues: whether the argument about criminality depends on showing that the industry has acted in ways beyond that covered by tobacco legislation and regulations—such as by engineering the product so as to make it more attractive or more addictive, or failing to offer assistance, such as cessation programmes, to people it has addicted as children; and just how far the line of criminality might run—perhaps through to company directors, advertisers, marketing executives, and lawyers.”