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Consumer acceptable risk: how cigarette companies have responded to accusations that their products are defective
  1. K Michael Cummings1,
  2. Anthony Brown1,
  3. Clifford E Douglas2
  1. 1Department of Health Behavior, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, New York, USA
  2. 2Tobacco Control Law & Policy Consulting, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 K Michael Cummings
 PhD, MPH, Department of Health Behavior, Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Elm and Carlton Streets, Buffalo, NY 14263, USA; michael.cummings{at}


Objective: To describe arguments used by cigarette companies to defend themselves against charges that their cigarettes were defective and that they could and should have done more to make cigarettes less hazardous.

Methods: The data for this paper come from the opening statements made by defendants in four court cases: two class action lawsuits (Engle 1999, and Blankenship 2001) and two individual cases (Boeken 2001, and Schwarz 2002). The transcripts of opening statements were reviewed and statements about product defect claims, product testing, and safe cigarette research were excerpted and coded.

Results: Responses by cigarette companies to charges that their products were defective has been presented consistently across different cases and by different companies. Essentially the arguments made by cigarette companies boil down to three claims: (1) smoking is risky, but nothing the companies have done has made cigarettes more dangerous than might otherwise be the case; (2) nothing the companies have done or said has kept someone from stopping smoking; and (3) the companies have spent lots of money to make the safest cigarette acceptable to the smoker.

Conclusions: Cigarette companies have argued that their products are inherently dangerous but not defective, and that they have worked hard to make their products safer by lowering the tar and nicotine content of cigarettes as recommended by members of the public health community. As a counter argument, plaintiff attorneys should focus on how cigarette design changes have actually made smoking more acceptable to smokers, thereby discouraging smoking cessation.

  • litigation
  • low tar
  • product testing
  • risk perceptions
  • safe cigarettes

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  • Sponsors: National Cancer Institute, American Legacy Foundation

  • Disclosures: Dr Cummings has served as an expert witness against the tobacco companies in several lawsuits for which he has received fees for this work. Mr Brown has also served as a consultant to plaintiff’s attorneys who are suing tobacco companies. Mr Douglas has provided service and consultation to law firms that have filed lawsuits against tobacco companies, including acting as co-counsel in some of those cases.