Objective: Despite their obligation to do so, tobacco companies often failed to conduct product safety research or, when research was conducted, failed to disseminate the results to the medical community and to the public. The tobacco company lawyers’ role in these actions was investigated with a focus on their involvement in company scientific research, claims of attorney-client privilege and work-product cover, document concealment, and litigation tactics.
Methods: Searches of previously secret internal tobacco industry documents located at Tobacco Documents Online. Additional searches included court transcripts, legal cases and articles obtained through Westlaw, PubMed, and the internet.
Results: Tobacco company lawyers have been involved in activities having little or nothing to do with the practice of law, including gauging and attempting to influence company scientists’ beliefs, vetting in-house scientific research, and instructing in-house scientists not to publish potentially damaging results. Additionally, company lawyers have taken steps to manufacture attorney-client privilege and work-product cover to assist their clients in protecting sensitive documents from disclosure, have been involved in the concealment of such documents, and have employed litigation tactics that have largely prevented successful lawsuits against their client companies.
Conclusions: Tobacco related diseases have proliferated partly because of tobacco company lawyers. Their tactics have impeded the flow of information about the dangers of smoking to the public and the medical community. Additionally, their extravagantly aggressive litigation tactics have pushed many plaintiffs into dropping their cases before trial, thus reducing the opportunities for changes to be made to company policy in favour of public health. Stricter professional oversight is needed to ensure that this trend does not continue.
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This publication was funded by grant number 1 R01 CA87571 from the National Cancer Institute.
Competing interests: None.
Ethical approval: None required.
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