Thursday, May 04, 2017

Smokeless Tobacco Company Admits that Its Products Cause Oral Cancer

In its defense of a lawsuit brought by the family of former San Diego Padres great Tony Gwynn who died of oral cancer in 2014, the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company has admitted that its products cause oral cancer and that the public was widely aware of it, to the extent that it was "obvious."

As reported by USA Today: "The U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company has filed a response to the family of deceased baseball legend Tony Gwynn, saying that Gwynn was warned about the alleged risks of using smokeless tobacco and that such risks are “commonly known” but Gwynn accepted them anyway. ... “Plaintiffs (the Gwynns) are barred from recovering any damages because the dangers claimed by Plaintiffs, if any, are and were open and obvious,” says the company’s response, filed by attorneys at the firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon."

Furthermore, the company argued that: "Gwynn “had the means of knowing, by the exercise of ordinary intelligence, the truth of alleged statements concerning smokeless tobacco use and health.”"

The company's primary defenses are two-fold:

First, the company argues that the oral cancer risks of smokeless tobacco were widely known, to the point that they should have been obvious to everyone. Second, the company argues that Gwynn's oral cancer was not due to smokeless tobacco, but to some unspecified "pre-existing condition."

The Rest of the Story

This is about the weakest defense imaginable. On the one hand, the company argues that the link between smokeless tobacco use and oral cancer is so clear, so obvious, and so obviously true, that anyone with ordinary intelligence knows that smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer. On the other hand, the company is arguing that despite such an obvious link, Tony Gwynn's oral cancer -- which occurred in the exact spot where he used smokeless tobacco -- was not related to his smokeless tobacco use.

This duo of conflicting arguments should not deceive any jury member with "ordinary intelligence."

You can't have it both ways. You can't argue that the link between smokeless tobacco and oral cancer is so obvious that anyone should have known that if you put smokeless tobacco into one area in your oral cavity for years, you are likely to develop cancer in that area, but that for some reason, this individual who did exactly that and got cancer at that site got cancer for some other reason. That reasoning should fool exactly no one.

I also agree with Northeastern Law School professor Richard Daynard's comment: "Tobacco companies "do what they can to blame the victim,” said Richard Daynard, a law professor at Northeastern University and tobacco industry critic who is not involved in the case. “Their basic defense is, `Only a very weak-willed person would use this product, and it’s his fault and not ours.’ My understanding is that ain’t going to work with Tony Gwynn, with what people know about him. It’s working less and less with people who are not celebrities.”"

The company is also going to have a hard time convincing a jury that the link between smokeless tobacco and oral cancer was obvious to anyone with any intelligence, but that the company itself denied such a link, or downplayed and undermined it.

Gwynn's death is widely recognized as having helped changed the culture in baseball regarding smokeless tobacco use and has led to an increasing number of bans on the use of smokeless tobacco during professional baseball games.

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