BUSINESS

It's Been A Bad Year For Big Tobacco

Cigarette companies found themselves the targets of tighter regulations and lawsuits.

Anti-smoking activists have for years targeted the global behemoths that control the tobacco industry -- and this year they made headway. Some of the largest tobacco companies suffered financial and PR setbacks in a series of lawsuits, and anti-smoking initiatives worldwide are further curbing their power.

Here are the losses big tobacco suffered this year:

Packs of Philip Morris International Inc. Marlboro Menthol cigarettes in Australian plain packaging.
Packs of Philip Morris International Inc. Marlboro Menthol cigarettes in Australian plain packaging.

Australia Can Keep Its Plain Cigarette Packaging

The Australian government won a major lawsuit against Philip Morris this week. It can continue using plain packaging -- logo-less packaging that is the same for all tobacco brands -- on cigarette packs sold across the country.  

Australia introduced "the world's toughest laws on tobacco promotion" in 2011, according to then-health minister Nicola Roxon. That year the government voted to implement packaging that, instead of logos, displays the frightening illnesses associated with smoking.

Philip Morris Asia unsuccessfully sued the Australian government in 2011, claiming that the law violated a trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong. 

A symbolic cigarette butt was set up inside the Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris, France as part of a publicity cam
A symbolic cigarette butt was set up inside the Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris, France as part of a publicity campaign against dropping cigarette butts on the ground.

The UK, France and Ireland Will Use Standardized Packaging, Too 

Several countries have followed suit on Australia's anti-smoking measures. Britain and Ireland approved plain packaging laws in March.

France's parliament also approved a law Thursday that will place plain packaging on all cigarettes sold in the country starting in May 2016. The products' brand name will only appear in small type. 

The country has made several attempts to diminish its large number of smokers. In 2008, it prohibited smoking in enclosed public spaces like restaurants and bars. In October, the city of Paris also raised the fine for dropping a cigarette butt into the street to 68 euros. 

Boston Raises Age For Buying Tobacco To 21

Boston's board of health voted last week to raise the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 in an effort to prevent teen smoking.

Boston followed the lead of many other cities and towns across Massachusetts that had already increased the age limit. “These changes send a strong message that Boston takes the issue of preventing tobacco addiction seriously," Boston mayor Marty Walsh said.

New International Trade Laws Block Tobacco Companies From Suing Countries

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 countries in the Pacific Rim, ruled in October that tobacco is exempt from Investor-State Dispute Settlement rules. In other words, tobacco companies will no longer be able to challenge TPP member countries' anti-smoking measures the way that Philip Morris did in Australia in 2011.

Anti-tobacco lobbyists and a few senators helped make it happen. “It was time to take action to get trade agreements to stop treating tobacco like it’s just another product and the tobacco industry like any other business,” said Gregg Haifley, federal relations director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

An old Camel logo.
An old Camel logo.

The FDA Forced One Tobacco Company To Stop Selling Several Products

The Food and Drug Administration banned R.J. Reynolds from selling four different types of cigarettes in September -- Camel Crush Bold, Pall Mall Deep Set Recessed Filter, Pall Mall Deep Set Recessed Filter Menthol and Vantage Tech 13 cigarettes.

The company changed the product ingredients so that they no longer complied with a 2007 federal health law, The Hill reported. The products "fail[ed] to meet the public health bar set forth under law,” explained Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. 

A Jury Imposed $35 Million In Damages On That Same Tobacco Company 

R.J. Reynolds was also at the center of a lawsuit in Florida after Garry O’Hara, a U.S. Air Force sergeant who earned the Bronze Star, died of lung cancer in 1996, at the age of 50. O'Hara's family's lawyers argued that the company masked the risks associated with smoking for years.

A Florida jury awarded the family $34.7 million in damages in September.

The company tried to argue that the executives responsible for decisions at the time are no longer around. “The R.J. Reynolds leadership that you heard about, they’re gone. … Those people who stood up before Congress and raised their hand, they’re gone," David Monde, a lawyer for R.J. Reynolds, said in court.

Shady Activity Uncovered Within A Big UK Tobacco Company

The BBC conducted an investigation into British American Tobacco and found that the company bribed politicians and civil servants in East African countries in an effort to "undermine anti-smoking legislation."

One BAT employee, the BBC said, illegally paid a civil servant in Burundi in exchange for a copy of the country's Tobacco Control Bill.

The BAT said it was the target of false accusations.

"Our accusers in this programme left us in acrimonious circumstances and have a vendetta against us, clearly demonstrated by the false picture they present of how we do business," it said in a statement. 

The company could face prosecution in the U.K. and the U.S.

Three Cigarette Companies Ordered To Pay CA $15 Billion To Canadian Smokers

Two separate lawsuits, filed by Canadians sickened from smoking and Canadians unable to quit smoking, culminated in the country's biggest class-action lawsuit to date.

Three tobacco companies -- Imperial Tobacco; Rothmans, Benson & Hedges and JTI-Macdonald -- were accused of lying to consumers about the health risks associated with their products. They were ordered earlier this year to pay $15 billion (about $10.8 billion USD) to the plaintiffs.  

All three companies said they planned to appeal the decision, claiming that Canadians are well-versed in the risks of smoking.

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