The People of the State of California, et al. v. Philip Morris, Inc., et al.

The Los Angeles City Attorney filed a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against 16 tobacco companies (cigarette, cigar and pipe tobacco) accusing them of violating Proposition 65 — California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act — by not warning the public about the health risks of secondhand tobacco smoke.  The city seeks $2.5 billion and an injunction against the sale of tobacco products in California until the companies give “clear and reasonable warning” about the toxic dangers of breathing secondhand tobacco smoke.  See “Philip Morris Ordered to Supply Data on Secondhand Smoke,” Los Angeles Times, February 19, 1999, B4.

On October 27, 1999, a San Diego Superior Court judge (Prager, J.) denied a preliminary injunction against the defendants that would have barred them from selling cigarettes in California until they provide clear warnings on the dangers of secondhand smoke.  “Addressing the equitable elements endemic to gauging the propriety of issuance of injunctive relief, it cannot be said that plaintiffs have established a reasonable probability of success on the merits of their claims.  Similarly, plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that in the absence of issuance of the requested injunctive relief, they will be irreparably harmed,” the judge wrote, noting that denial of the requested injunctive relief “merely results in a four month delay until the time of trial.”

On January 6, 2000, the judge dismissed the Proposition 65 claims brought by Los Angeles and San Jose, ruling that “[a]s the evidence proffered is undisputed and established Defendants’ wholesale lack of control over the exposure of ‘secondhand smoke’ to non-consumers, as a matter of law it must be said that Defendants herein owed Plaintiffs no duty to warn non-consumers of secondhand smoke that may have been emitted by the ordinary use by consumers of the tobacco products manufactured and distributed by Defendants.”  However, another plaintiff, American Environmental Safety Institute, was allowed to proceed with its claim that the tobacco companies violated California Business and Professions Code section 17200 by committing unfair business practices by denying that secondhand smoke causes cancer, reproductive toxicity, Sudden Infant Death syndrome, asthma, heart disease, alterations in lung development, lower respiratory tract diseases and emphysema.  The trial is scheduled for June 2000.  See Weinstein, H., “Tobacco Companies Get Good, Bad News,” Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2000, A3; McKee, M., “In Brief,” The Recorder, January 7, 2000; “California Judge Throws Out Second-Hand Smoke Claims,” News & Record (Greensboro, NC), January 7, 2000, B8; Krueger, A., “Big Tobacco Companies Win State Court Ruling; Don’t Have to Warn about Secondhand Smoke,” San Diego Tribune, January 8, 2000, A-3.

The People of the State of California, et al. v. Philip Morris, Inc., et al., 13.4 TPLR 3.195, Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles, Docket No. BC 194217 (1998).