Smokers Suing Around the World
CHICAGO (Reuters Health) - Recent legal judgments against tobacco companies in the United States are encouraging attorneys in other nations to file suits on behalf of smokers, according to presentations made here at the 11th World Conference on Tobacco OR
But different legal and political circumstances affect the extent to which the attorneys can apply US legal tactics or evidence to cases in their home countries, speakers said.
Stanley Rosenblatt, the Florida attorney who recently won a $145 billion punitive damage award against tobacco companies, exhorted delegates to press similar actions around the world.
``I ask the members of this conference, all the health professionals and all the lawyers, to build on this verdict and wipe this menace off the face of the earth,'' he said.
He sharply criticized physicians who appear as expert witnesses on behalf of tobacco companies, calling them a ''serious blemish on the medical profession.''
Rosenblatt told the audience, ``It never ceases to amaze me that in the year 2000, this industry can get board-certified 'hot shots' in pathology, in oncology, from some of the finest institutions in America, to walk into a courtroom and still debate cause, and try to create doubt and controversy on the most basic issues.''
Ugandan attorney Phillip Karugaba told delegates that he and colleagues have borrowed legal language and strategies from US cases for their own suits; and he said their opponents also make similar arguments.
``We also see that the defenses being mounted by British-American Tobacco are defenses that they've run here before. That is, that there are other risk factors for the injury claimed by the plaintiffs, that tobacco is not addictive, that they are under no duty to warn the consumers, that it is the plaintiff's fault for smoking,'' Karugaba said.
To illustrate the hurdles that their tobacco lawsuits face, Karugaba pointed out the president of Uganda recently was quoted as saying that smokers are to blame for their illnesses and that they would not get sick if they just would not inhale.
Korean attorney Keum Ja Bae is leading a team of attorneys suing both the South Korean government, which owned tobacco production until 1988, and the current private owner, the Korean Tobacco and Ginseng Corporation.
She said more than two thirds of adult men in Korea are smokers and that public opinion generally holds smokers responsible for their illnesses. However, she added that attitudes are beginning to change.
``Fortunately, the public understanding about tobacco is changing since the tobacco litigation, hence the optimism about victory in the tobacco litigation is emerging,'' she said.
Ugandan attorney Karugaba said anti-tobacco activists in other nations help inspire their efforts. ``We will litigate, advocate, associate, legislate, regulate and where necessary negotiate. We will join hands with like-minded parties and work toward making our neck of the woods smoke-free.''