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Can I (Still) Sue 'Big Tobacco' or a Nicotine Product Company?

Yes, you can still sue tobacco companies in some cases. You can bring an action as an individual or, in some cases, as a representative of a class in a class action.

Tobacco litigation has gotten so big that it is now what lawyers call a "mass tort." An attorney can analyze your situation and help you understand whether a lawsuit is right for you and what to expect.

Suing Tobacco Companies

Tobacco litigation can be complex and time-consuming because these companies are prepared to fight. But plaintiffs find a way to sue big tobacco companies.

For instance, in 2009, a Florida jury ordered cigarette company Philip Morris USA to pay $300 million in damages to an ex-smoker. That case was a part of the Engle progeny litigation, a group of almost 8,000 individual complaints filed after the Florida Supreme decertified their class action lawsuit in 2006.

In November 1998, most states and the four major U.S. tobacco companies entered a Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). The MSA changed how manufacturers could target consumers and advertise products.

The tobacco industry has since taken more precautions, such as:

  • Adding warnings to products
  • Being clear about the dangers of smoking and smoking-related illnesses
  • Stopping misleading advertisements
  • Not targeting minors or first-time smokers
  • Lowering risks to public health

Despite these changes, smokers and non-smokers can still pursue a case against tobacco companies. Lawsuits may be more limited than in the past on the claims made. But there are new products and forms of nicotine available, such as e-cigarettes, that may give rise to lawsuits.

In October 2021, changes by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed the marketing of e-cigarette products. The laws around pricing, taxing, and selling tobacco products often change. There will likely always be health care, product liability, consumer protection, and tobacco control concerns to bring against major tobacco companies.

Reasons to Sue 'Big Tobacco'

There are many reasons to bring a lawsuit against an American tobacco company. Keep in mind that there are federal regulations on tobacco as well as state-specific laws. You also do not automatically get to bring a case because you are a tobacco user. You need to have suffered some harm caused by the effects of smoking.

You might consider suing for:

  • Illness and injuries related to smoking, such as lung cancer, heart disease, etc.
  • Wrongful death of a loved one or severe health effects
  • Consumer protection claims or fraud
  • Not following the U.S. Surgeon General's warnings or guidelines
  • Medicaid costs (this was more common in the 1980s)
  • How a company advertises cigarette smoking or vaping
  • Health care costs as a result of tobacco use
  • Concerns or health risks from secondhand smoke
  • Unsafe conditions if you work for a cigarette manufacturer

You can sue for compensation and, in some cases, punitive damages (these are damages intended to punish a wrongdoer). But, most tobacco court cases get settled.

Keep in mind that some products might contain just nicotine, just tobacco (such as herbal cigarettes), or both. An attorney can help you understand which tobacco manufacturer or other cigarette companies to sue.

Vaping Litigation

Nicotine and tobacco products are evolving. It's not just cigarettes and tobacco anymore. New vaping, e-cigarettes, chews, pills, patches, inhalers, cigarettes, gums, nasal sprays, and lozenge products get released every year, bringing about new lawsuits. Although some of these involve products intended to help you quit smoking, the majority of lawsuits include e-cigarettes and vaping.

Most have been against JUUL, and some involve Altria Group (an investor in JUUL and owner of the tobacco company Philip Morris). Common allegations include:

  • Targeting vaping products to youth through advertising and flavors
  • Failing to warn of dangerous levels of nicotine in vaping products
  • Failing to warn about the risk of lung illness and injuries related to vaping

States have been getting into the act. Various state attorneys general have brought their vaping lawsuits against tobacco and nicotine companies, mainly for targeting young people.

Learn More about Tobacco, Nicotine, and Vaping

Vaping, E-Cigs, and Nicotine

Tobacco and Chewing Tobacco

Employees and Workplace Smoking

Tobacco and Nicotine for Minors

Seek Legal Help

If these topics or an experience you've had with tobacco or nicotine seem like a reason to sue, a law firm that works with tobacco lawsuits should be your first step.

Experienced litigation and appeals lawyers can assess the viability of your case. They can guide you through the complexities of the legal process and help you understand the potential outcome of your case. With the evolving landscape in nicotine and tobacco products, new bases for litigation may emerge.

You can contact a litigation attorney to discuss a lawsuit, or you may need one focusing on personal injury, product liability, or another legal issue.

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