Nearly 50 years of conflict over role of smoking in health

July 15, 2000

These are the major events in the fight over tobacco in the United States:

1954: Industry faces first liability lawsuit by lung cancer victim alleging negligence and breach of warranty. Suit dropped 13 years later.

1964: Surgeon General Luther Terry releases reports concluding smoking causes lung cancer.

1965: Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act requires surgeon general's warnings on cigarette packs.

1971: Broadcast ads for cigarettes are banned.

1988: Government bans smoking on short domestic airline flights. Surgeon general concludes that nicotine is an addictive drug.

1990: Smoking banned on interstate buses and all domestic airline flights of six hours or less.

1992: Nicotine patches are introduced.

1993: Vermont bans smoking in indoor public places.

April 1994: Executives of seven largest U.S. tobacco companies swear in congressional testimony that nicotine isn't addictive and deny manipulating nicotine levels in cigarettes.

May 1994: Brown & Williamson documents show tobacco executives discovered smoking's risks before the surgeon general did. Mississippi files first of 24 state lawsuits seeking to recoup millions from tobacco companies for smokers' Medicaid bills.

March 1996: Liggett Group, smallest of major tobacco companies, settles claims with five state attorneys general and promises to help them against other companies.

April 1997: Federal judge rules government can regulate tobacco as a drug. But industry is allowed to continue advertising.

June 1997: Landmark settlement, subject to congressional approval, calls for unprecedented restrictions on cigarettes and on tobacco makers' liability in lawsuits. Industry to spend $368 billion over 25 years, mainly on anti-smoking campaigns, use bold health warning on packs, curb advertising and face fines if youth smoking doesn't drop enough.

July 1997: First state to settle with tobacco, Mississippi agrees to $3.6 billion deal with companies including Brown & Williamson, R. J. Reynolds, Philip Morris and Lorillard Tobacco.

August 1997: Florida reaches settlement reported to be $11.3 billion.

January 1998: Texas settles with the tobacco industry for $15.3 billion over 25 years. Tobacco executives testify before Congress that nicotine is addictive under definitions of the word and smoking might cause cancer.

November 1998: Forty-six states embrace a $206 billion settlement with cigarette makers over health costs for treating sick smokers. Cigarette prices expected to rise 35 cents to 40 cents a pack to fund settlement.

February 1999: Patricia Henley is awarded $51.5 million in damages against Philip Morris Cos. A state judge later cuts the verdict to $26.5 million. Philip Morris is appealing the award.

March 1999: A jury in Portland, Ore., awards the family of Jesse Williams $79.5 million against Philip Morris in punitive damages plus $821,485 in compensatory damages for medical costs and pain and suffering. The judge later reduces the punitive damages to $32 million. Philip Morris is appealing.

July 1999: In the first class-action lawsuit by smokers to go to trial, a Florida jury says five tobacco companies engaged in "extreme and outrageous conduct" in making a defective product that causes emphysema, lung cancer and other illnesses. Meanwhile, two tobacco companies are cleared of wrongdoing in the death of a smoker from lung cancer by a Louisiana jury.

September 1999: The Justice Department sues the tobacco industry to recover billions of government dollars spent to provide smoking-related health care, accusing cigarette-makers of a "coordinated campaign of fraud and deceit."

March: A San Francisco jury orders Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds Corp., the two largest tobacco companies in the United States, to pay $20 million in punitive damages. This followed a $1.7 million compensatory damage award March 20 to Leslie Whiteley for medical costs and pain and suffering. Her husband, Leonard, is awarded $250,000 for lost of companionship. Both companies are appealing.

April: In the second phase of the landmark Florida class-action trial, the jury awards two smokers $6.9 million in compensatory damages. The jury awards a third smoker $5.8 million but determines that he cannot collect because the four-year statue of limitations had run out.

July: A Mississippi jury rejects a $102 million wrongful-death suit Wednesday filed against R. J. Reynolds Tobacco by the widow of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer.

July: A jury orders the tobacco industry yesterday to pay $145 billion in punitive damages to sick Florida smokers, a record-shattering figure. Industry lawyers are expected to appeal.

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