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Smokeless Tobacco Company Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The largest smokeless tobacco company in the United States settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $5 million. The company claims it will not settle similar cases in the future. The plaintiff in the lawsuit used smokeless tobacco for multiple decades and died of mouth cancer at the age of 42.

The settlement decision was recently finalized in court, but legal experts describe the settlement as extremely unique because no jury has ever made a decision against the a tobacco company for harm that allegedly came from the use of smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco users put tobacco between their lips and the gums of their mouth. The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in 2003 by a 42-year-old man who started using smokeless tobacco at the age of 13.

According to the attorney that represented the family of the 42-year-old, the man became addicted to smokeless tobacco in the 1970's. Smokeless tobacco products during that time period did not have warning labels. The attorney that represented the family said that since the man became addicted as a child and because there was not a health warning on the product, the tobacco company could not use a personal responsibility defense. The plaintiff's attorney also used letters from children as evidence in the suit.

The attorney used 60 letters written by childhood users of smokeless tobacco and were addressed to the tobacco company. The childhood letters asked the tobacco company to keep the price of smokeless tobacco affordable. The tobacco company often responded to the letters and included free cans of tobacco in the response letters. The letters were written in the 1970's and 1980's. Though tobacco cans did not have warnings then there were federal and state regulations that prohibited the sale of tobacco to minors. Other wrongful death suits are pending against the same company but it is known how many.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Smoke-less Tobacco Maker Settles Suit," Kevin Helliker, 9/12/10

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