Is the tobacco industry to blame for Tony Gwynn’s death? That’s the contention of the former baseball star’s family, which filed a lawsuit Monday in San Diego Superior Court against several defendants, including Altria Group Corp., the parent company of Philip Morris, and US Smokeless Tobacco Co. LLC.
Gwynn, an eight-time batting champion who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, died in 2014 of salivary gland cancer at age 54. According to his family, Gwynn began using smokeless tobacco as a San Diego State freshman in 1977, and over the next 31 years, he went through between one and a half to two cans per day.
The wrongful-death suit claims (via the Associated Press), “Once Defendants got Tony addicted to their products, he became a self-described ‘tobacco junkie.'” It was filed by Gwynn’s widow, Alicia, and their two children, Anisha Gwynn-Jones and Tony Gwynn Jr., himself a former MLB player.
The family is seeking a jury trial and unspecified damages. An attorney for the Gwynns said the basis of the suit is that the player began using smokeless tobacco at a time when the industry was aware it caused cancer but failed to provide warning labels.
“Now that the family understands how he was targeted, they understand that the industry knew they had this highly carcinogenic product and they were marketing it to people like Tony,” David S. Casey, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the New York Times. “They want to hold them accountable and let a jury make a decision as to what is proper in this case.”
In the late 1970’s, the lawsuit claims, the smokeless tobacco industry was interested in marketing its product to African-Americans, college students and athletes, making Gwynn the perfect target. En route to a 15 all-star appearances, Gwynn was often seen during games with a familiar bulge in his mouth, as reflected in a pair of Topps trading cards included in the suit as supporting documents.
Among defendants in Gwynn lawsuit are Don Feblowitz & Rob Quinn
who, it says, sponsored intramural softball team
“Skoal Brothers” at SDSU
— Bernie Wilson (@berniewilson) May 24, 2016
“The tobacco companies were using his addiction to turn him into their ultimate walking billboard,” Gwynn Jr. told the Times. “He never knew it, but they were using him to promote their dip to the next generation of kids and fans who idolized him.”
Gwynn, who spent his entire 20-year major league career with the San Diego Padres, eventually required procedures to remove cancerous lymph nodes and tumors from his salivary glands and to remove a malignant tumor from the inside of his right cheek (via the Los Angeles Times). He stated multiple times that he believed his addiction to chewing tobacco caused his illnesses.