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Big Tobacco Downplays Smoking-Cancer Link When Sued

Tuesday, November 28, 2006 12:00 AM

TUESDAY, Nov. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Cigarette makers may publicly admit that their products cause cancer, but when sued by sick smokers, they deny or minimize the link, according to a new analysis of lawsuits.

Researchers at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Detroit reviewed 34 personal injury claims brought against major tobacco manufacturers in the United States between 1986 and 2003.

The defense arguments used by the tobacco companies included: a lack of scientific proof that smoking causes cancer; denials that a plaintiff had lung cancer; or acknowledging that a plaintiff had lung cancer, but a kind of lung cancer not caused by smoking.

Tobacco companies' lawyers also argued that presence of other factors invalidated the plaintiff's claims that tobacco was solely responsible for their cancer, or that the plaintiff had exercised free will by choosing to smoke despite knowing the health risks.

Starting in the late 1990s, the defense that there's no scientific proof to link cigarette smoking with cancer started to become less common as tobacco companies began to publicly admit that smoking causes cancer. However, at the same time, there was an increase in the use of the defenses of mitigating factors and the plaintiff's exercise of free will.

"The cigarette companies, through their public admissions and courtroom arguments, seem to be saying: 'Yes, smoking cause lung cancer, but not in the people who sue us,' " the study authors concluded.

The article appears in a supplement to the journalTobacco Control.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about smoking and cancer.

SOURCE: BMJ Specialist Journals, news release, Nov. 28, 2006

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