The decision in a Scottish smoker’s case, McTear v. Imperial Tobacco Limited, that there was no scientific proof of causation between the plaintiff’s smoking and his death from lung cancer, accepted all of the traditional arguments that the tobacco industry has made throughout the history of tobacco litigation, including that epidemiology is not an adequate branch of science to draw a conclusion of causation, that the tobacco industry has no knowledge that its products are dangerous to consumers, and that, despite this lack of knowledge, the plaintiff had sufficient information to make an informed decision about the dangers of smoking. This case relied on outmoded methods of reasoning and placed too great a faith in the tobacco industry’s timeworn argument that “everybody knew, nobody knows”. Further, the judge found it prejudicial that the plaintiff’s expert witnesses were not paid for their services because she was indigent, believing that the lack of payment placed in doubt their credibility and claiming that the paid tobacco expert witnesses had more motive to testify independently because they had been paid, a perverse and novel line of reasoning. The McTear case contrasts unfavourably with the recent decision in United States v. Philip Morris, a United States decision that found the tobacco industry defendants to be racketeers, based both on the weight of a huge amount of internal tobacco industry documents showing that the tobacco industry knew their products were addictive and were made that way purposely to increase sales, and on the testimony of expert witnesses who, like those who testified in McTear, have made the advancement of the public health their life’s work and are not “hired guns”. The McTear case’s reasoning seems outdated and reminiscent of early litigation in the United States. Hopefully, it will not take courts outside of the United States 40 more years to acknowledge the current scientific knowledge about smoking and health.
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Competing interests: None.