Phillip Morris is soon to have its day before the United States Supreme Court.
During the past 40 years, the tobacco industry has engaged in an aggressive, expensive and largely successful campaign to defeat efforts to hold it accountable in the courts for the enormous harm caused by its conduct and its products. In Philip Morris USA Inc. v. Williams, the plaintiff smoker achieved a rare victory, and Philip Morris is now asking the United States Supreme Court to reverse the $79.5 million in punitive damages awarded by the state courts in Oregon.
As the scientific and medical evidence indicting smoking as a cause of cancer mounted in the early 1950s, the tobacco companies recognized the threat to their market and profits. In response, the leading companies adopted a no-holds-barred litigation strategy. To complement that hard-nosed approach, the tobacco companies jointly agreed to undertake a “long term” public relations campaign to publicly dispute the connection between smoking and cancer. This campaign’s central theme was that whether smoking caused disease remained an “open controversy.” In a program designed and run by the industry’s lawyers, the companies used a so-called “independent” research organization to support the few scientists willing to criticize the consensus view on the witness stand and in public. In fact, the industry’s own internal documents demonstrate the tobacco companies themselves recognized the causal connection between smoking and cancer during the 1950s.
Big Tobacco engaged in fraudulent marketing for years. Now it seeks to avoid the verdict of an Oregon jury which has been upheld by the state appellate courts. The United States Supreme Court should leave justice in Oregon to the citizens and courts of that state.