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Resources: Criminal Liability for Tobacco Executives

ASH Resources

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?”

Blog: Criminal Cases About Consumer Products

Description: A blog that illustrate famous criminal cases regarding consumer products and compares them to a potential case against Big Tobacco.

Quote:” If tobacco products were released as new products today, they would quickly be banned, and civil and criminal cases would be brought against tobacco corporations for the harms caused by tobacco.”

Blog: What Does Peanut Butter Have To Do With Tobacco?

Description: A blog post that highlights the similarities and differences between a potential criminal cases against tobacco executives and the recent landmark case against executives of a peanut butter manufacturing company.

Quote: “Despite some differences, much about the peanut butter case rings true with tobacco as well. As Peter Hurley, a Portland, Oregon police officer and the father of a child who got Salmonella poisoning from Parnell peanut paste, told Congress: ‘If someone is convicted of a felony in the criminal justice system, they go to prison and are not allowed to vote. But, if you poison Americans via their food supply what are the consequences? You pay a fine and keep producing? Is this right? Is this what we as Americans want?’”

Journal Articles

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.”

Put Tobacco Executives on Death Row

Description: A National Law Journal article discussing the legal reasons why tobacco corporations and executives could and should be brought up on criminal charges, particularly manslaughter or second degree murder.

Quote: “Tobacco companies and their officers should face charges of manslaughter, or even murder. There is little doubt that criminal law would support such indictments.”

Newspaper Articles

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

Response to French Filtergate Complaint

Description: On 5 April 2018, the National Committee for Tobacco Control filed a criminal complaint against the tobacco industry, and later became a civil party to the case. The case was dismissed. This document is the response.

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.”