Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Lawsuits and secondhand smoke
  1. E L Sweda, Jr
  1. Correspondence to:
 Edward L Sweda
 Senior Attorney, Tobacco Control Resource Center, Northeastern University School of Law, Boston, Massachusetts;


Objective: This paper describes secondhand smoke (SHS) litigation over the past quarter century where non-smoking litigants have prevailed and attempts to decipher trends in the law that may impact the course of future cases.

Methods: Since the early 1980s, the author has sought and examined legal cases in which SHS exposure is an important factor. Law library searches using the official reporter system (for example, Shimp v. New Jersey Bell Telephone Co., 368 A.2d 408) have more recently been combined with computerised online searches using LexisNexis and Westlaw. The author has learned of other cases through personal correspondence and from articles in newspapers. Over 420 cases involving exposure to SHS were identified. Each case was reviewed and summarised.

Results: Since 1976, the year of the first reported SHS lawsuit, this type of litigation has increased both in number and in scope with increasing success. While it is common for initial cases to lose in a new area where the law eventually evolves, litigants and their lawyers who later bring similar cases can learn from those previous, unsuccessful cases. It is now apparent that the judicial branch has begun to recognise the need to protect the public—especially some of the most vulnerable members of our society—from the serious threat to their health that is exposure to SHS.

Conclusions: Successful cases brought on behalf of individuals exposed to SHS produce an additional benefit for the public health by both paving the way for other non-smoking litigants to succeed in their cases and persuading business owners and others voluntarily to make their facilities 100% smoke-free.

  • ADA, Americans With Disabilities Act
  • ETS, environmental tobacco smoke
  • FAMRI, Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute
  • PWDCRA, Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act
  • SHS, secondhand smoke

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • * Among the other trials, four resulted in a defence verdict (Fontana v. Philip Morris Inc., verdict on 5 April 2001; Tucker v. Philip Morris Inc., verdict on 4 October 2002; Seal v. Philip Morris USA Inc., et al., verdict on 7 February 2003; and Routh v. Philip Morris USA, verdict on 14 October 2003), one in a mistrial (Quiepo v. Philip Morris Inc., et al., mistrial declared on 23 May 2002), and one in a defence verdict that was overturned by the trial judge (Janoff v. Philip Morris Inc., et al., defence verdict on 5 September 2002; trial judge overturned the defence verdict on 8 January 2003). That case will be retried.