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Am J Prev Med. 2006 Jan;30(1):82-8.

Applying lessons from tobacco litigation to obesity lawsuits.

Author information

  • 1Northeastern University School of Law, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA. jess@tplp.org

Erratum in

  • Am J Prev Med. 2006 Apr;30(4):363.

Abstract

This discussion examines the use of litigation as a strategy to protect the public health. The history of tobacco litigation provides a model to evaluate potential litigation strategies against other industries that pose a threat to public health, particularly the food industry. This paper demonstrates that although legislation would be a preferable solution, lessons from the tobacco wars suggest that effective national legislation is unlikely at the present time. Based on the differences and similarities between the tobacco and food industries, it predicts the effectiveness of particular kinds of obesity litigation and the food industry's likely response. The tobacco industry has vigorously fought individual injury lawsuits and has had remarkable success in resisting such cases. The food industry is likely to successfully employ a similar "scorched earth" litigation strategy in individual injury cases. However, the tobacco industry did agree to the Master Settlement Agreement in the lawsuits brought by the state attorneys general because they were a unique kind of litigation with a finite number of plaintiffs. Likewise, state lawsuits under consumer protection acts may be a distinct type of litigation that permits cases to focus on deceptive advertisements while avoiding complicated causation issues. Such lawsuits have the potential to be a useful tool to fight obesity and enlist the efforts of the food industry in resisting the epidemic. Understanding the lessons of tobacco can save public health advocates much time and many resources and thus allow tobacco litigation to benefit public health in new ways.

PMID:
16414429
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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