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Current legal issues in tobacco

Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Investigator(s): Brion Fox, S.M., J.D.
Award Cycle: 1997 (Cycle 6) Grant #: 6FT-0105 Award: $34,746
Subject Area: Public Health, Public Policy, and Economics
Award Type: Postdoctoral Fellowship Awards

Initial Award Abstract
As the public health community tries to reduce the consequences smoking has on society it has tried a number of different approaches, including education, public relations, promoting smoking cessation programs, passing laws restricting tobacco products, and suing the tobacco companies. These last two strategies represent traditional legal approaches to solving problems. It is not clear, however, how effective they are at controlling tobacco. The research to be conducted under this proposal will clarify how suing the tobacco companies and regulating them does or does not work to achieve the public health goals.

In recent years, litigation has been a more often used tactic against the tobacco companies. There have been an explosion of lawsuits against the tobacco industry which have been filed by sick smokers, nicotine addicted smokers and states and cities (such as San Francisco) . These lawsuits, as opposed to ones filed in the past, show a greater likelihood of success and are creating enormous pressure on the tobacco industry.

As a result of this pressure, many people are looking for ways to strike a deal which would eliminate liability for the tobacco industry in return for contributions to the public health. There is a great concern by many in the public health community, however, that giving the tobacco companies freedom from liability will be too generous when compared with what is received. The research conducted under this proposal will look at the various settlement proposals and assess their benefits end 'costs to the public's health. It will also explore the possibility of finding a settlement that is good for the public health and outline its terms. In the event a settlement is reached with the tobacco companies, this research will analyze it for its meaning for the public health. This research wilt ultimately help and evaluate the importance of litigation in the fight against tobacco.

There has also been a movement to more heavily regulate the tobacco industry. In 1992 the federal government passed a law which required states to enforce their prohibitions against minors buying cigarettes. Many people in the tobacco control community were disappointed with different aspects of the law, believing that the regulations were too weak, that the tobacco industry too heavily influenced the process and that the law had too many unintended effects, such as indirectly preventing local governments from regulating tobacco. As a result, some question whether the Synar Amendment was in the best interest of the public health. The research conducted under this proposal will examine the Synar Amendment to see what went right and what went wrong. From this research, future policy makers will better understand what works in legislation and how to create better legislation to control tobacco in the future.