San Francisco Suit Over Smokeless Tobacco Settles
San Francisco's long-running battle with the tobacco industry drew to a close Tuesday with the announcement of a $2.75 million settlement with the makers of chewing tobacco and snuff.
Of that, the law firms involved will split $1 million in fees, while $1.75 million remaining will go to education programs, San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Owen Clements said.
Retiring City Attorney Louise Renne said a federal judge in San Diego approved the settlement Monday, ordering the payout and the posting of warning signs.
"As a result of this settlement, companies that make and sell smokeless tobacco will have to warn consumers that their products are a serious health risk," Renne said at a press conference. "And they are."
She said San Francisco will get $313,465 from the agreement to fund anti-smokeless tobacco efforts.
"The settlement is particularly important because people who use smokeless tobacco, especially teen-agers who are in danger of starting an addiction that may shorten their lives, need to know that chewing tobacco is toxic," Renne said. "It's not a safe alternative to smoking."
Under the settlement, the United States Tobacco Co. and eight other makers of smokeless products will distribute to stores signs warning of the cancer-causing and birth defect connection of their snuff and chewing tobacco.
The settlement came from a Proposition 65 lawsuit filed by the Oakland, Calif.-based Environmental Law Foundation, whose director, attorney James Wheaton, criticized the industry for aiming its products at children.
Wheaton said the smokeless firms produce flavored snuff to entice new users, then "graduate them up to a stronger and stronger and unflavored product and hook them for life."
Three San Francisco law firms, in addition to the city attorney, represented Wheaton's foundation. They were Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, Altshuler Berzon Nussbaum Rubin & Demain and Bushnell Caplan & Fielding.
Alan Caplan, name partner in Bushnell Caplan, said Proposition 65 was passed by voters in 1986 and created two categories of chemicals: carcinogens and reproductive toxins. Both fit the smokeless tobacco profile, he said.
"If you're going to expose people to those chemicals, you have to warn them," said Caplan, who has successfully sued the makers of wine glasses, decanters and water fixtures for the high lead content in their products.
Caplan and co-counsel Philip Neumark also were the first attorneys to sue R.J. Reynolds for its Joe Camel campaign aimed at attracting new, young smokers. That settlement brought $10 million into California for youth-directed anti-smoking campaigns, with $1.5 million going to San Francisco.
Two other tobacco suits joined by Renne's office resulted in a national settlement of $12 billion with tobacco makers. San Francisco will get $500 million over 25 years, with the bulk earmarked for the rebuilding of the Laguna Honda Hospital for the aged.
Retailers who sell smokeless tobacco products and were named in the suit also agreed to post the warning signs as part of the settlement.
They are Merrill Reese Inc., Lucky Stores Inc., Quick Stop Markets Inc., Raley's Inc., Save Mart Supermarkets Inc., Sav-On Drug Stores Inc., The Southland Corp., Circle K Stores Inc., Longs Drug Stores Corp., Walgreen Co. and Safeway Inc.
Wheaton said that the tobacco industry will also be funding a "counter advertising campaign" at rodeos, stock car races and minor league baseball games, where the use of smokeless products is prevalent.