Legal Strategy

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Litigation: To challenge laws and intimidate tobacco industry opponents.
WHO Definitions of Tobacco Industry Tactics for resisting effective tobacco control, 2009.

The tobacco industry has a history of using litigation against its critics, tobacco control programmes, and regulation that affects its sales. Historically, the industry has always attempted to influence policy through legislation directly and through third parties. At the same time, lawyers working for the industry have influenced the way it has investigated and reported the health effects of smoking.

  • Below are some specific examples of tobacco industry legal strategies – to explore these issues further click on the links.

Opposing Media Campaigns in the US

  • As early as 1969, Philip Morris began discussing legal strategies to counter tobacco control media campaigns.
  • In the early 1990s the industry considered taking legal action to stop messages critical of the industry shortly after California ran its first anti‐tobacco advertisement, “Industry Spokesman”, which “portrayed a smoke‐filled board room filled with tobacco industry executives and the leader laughing about the fact that the tobacco industry needed to recruit approximately 3000 new smokers every day because 2000 people stop smoking and another 1100 die”. A decade later, two tobacco companies, RJ Reynolds and Lorillard Tobacco Company, did challenge California’s campaign in the courts in 2002 and 2003. 1
  • In 2006 an article in the journal Tobacco Control noted that “the tobacco industry has expanded its efforts to oppose tobacco control media campaigns through litigation strategies”.

Lawyers Stifle the Health Debate

One scientific study that investigated the influence of the industry’s own lawyers on scientific research concluded that:

Tobacco company lawyers have been involved in activities having little or nothing to do with the practice of law, including gauging and attempting to influence company scientists’ beliefs, vetting in-house scientific research, and instructing in-house scientists not to publish potentially damaging results … Tobacco related diseases have proliferated partly because of tobacco company lawyers.2

Threatening Critics

There are instances where the industry has threatened its critics with legal action:

  • In the mid-1990s, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand achieved national prominence in the US when he became the tobacco industry’s highest ranking executive to blow the whistle on health and smoking issues. A lawsuit was filed against him by BAT’s subsidiary Brown & Williamson, which was dismissed as a condition of the June 20, 1997 historic $368 billion settlement between the Attorneys General of 40 States and the tobacco industry. Wigand later achieved international fame when he was played by the actor Russell Crowe in the Hollywood film, The Insider. 3

Challenging Legislation, such as Plain Packaging

In October 2011, the World Health Organization’s WHO director-general Margaret Chan accused tobacco firms of using lawsuits to try to subvert national laws and international conventions aimed at curbing cigarette sales. “It is horrific to think that an industry known for its dirty tricks and dirty laundry could be allowed to trump what is clearly in the public’s best interests,” Chan said, citing legal actions by the tobacco industry against anti-smoking measures in Australia and Uruguay, saying these were “scare tactics” intended to frighten other countries from following suit. She continued: “Big tobacco can afford to hire the best lawyers and PR firms that money can buy. Big money can speak louder than any moral, ethical or public health argument and can trample even the most damning scientific evidence”. 4
For more information see:

Some of the Tactics Used

Read more about Tobacco Industry Tactics

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  1. J K Ibrahim and Stanton A Glantz, “Tobacco industry litigation strategies to oppose tobacco control media campaigns”, Tobacco Control, 2006, February; 15(1): 50–58
  2. S D Guardino, R A Daynard, “Tobacco industry lawyers as ‘disease vectors'”, Tobacco Control, 2007 August; 16(4):224-8
  3. Jeffrey Wigand, Website, Accessed April 2012
  4. Mynardo Macaraig, “WHO chief accuses ‘big tobacco’ of dirty tricks”, AFP, 10 October, 2011