Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Tobacco litigation worldwide

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 08 January 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:111

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Richard A Daynard, professor (,
  2. Clive Bates, directorb,
  3. Neil Francey, barrister at lawc
  1. a Northeastern University School of Law, 400 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02116, USA
  2. b Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), London EC2A 4HW
  3. c Wentworth Chambers, 180 Phillip Street, Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: R A Daynard
  • Accepted 23 August 1999

Editorial by Davis

Tobacco litigation has transformed the prospects for tobacco control, first in the United States and more recently worldwide. It has forced tobacco companies to sit at the bargaining table with tobacco control advocates, has produced settlements under which the industry is committed to paying about $10bn each year to reimburse American states for healthcare expenditure caused by tobacco, and it has generally put the industry on the political defensive. For example, the millions of pages of internal documents from the tobacco industry that are now open for public inspection in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and in Guildford, England, as a result of the Minnesota state litigation continue to fuel exposés of industry misconduct, and only a fraction of the material has yet been analysed.

This article describes tobacco litigation in the United States and reviews developments elsewhere. It concludes with the bleak picture in Great Britain.

Summary points

Tobacco litigation is transforming the prospects for tobacco control worldwide

Litigation in the United States is moving forward on several fronts, including individual cases, class actions, third party reimbursement actions, and secondhand smoke cases

Other countries have followed suit, with governmental actions in courts both in the United States and locally and with private individual, class action, and reimbursement cases

Australia has seen a major ruling on the dangers of environmental tobacco smoke, and there is currently a viable smokers' class action

Britain has not been hospitable to tobacco litigation, with a recent negative judicial decision forcing a group action to be abandoned


We examined the reported judicial decisions in tobacco litigation, and we collected and analysed other legal documents in other tobacco cases.

Cases in the United States

Tobacco litigation, even in the United States, has not been easy or uniformly successful. Indeed, for the first 42 years of litigation, from 1954 to 1996, the industry maintained …

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