Smokeless tobacco companies settle lawsuit

By Paul Elias The Associated Press
Wednesday December 19, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — Makers and sellers of chewing tobacco have agreed to pay $2.75 million and post signs warning of smokeless products’ health hazards in stores to settle a suit, San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne said Tuesday. 

“People, especially teens, need to know that chewing tobacco is toxic,” Renne said at a City Hall press conference. “It’s not the safe alternative to smoking.” 

San Francisco joined the nonprofit Environmental Law Foundation in filing suit in 1998 against eight tobacco companies and 11 retail chains under Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act approved by voters in 1986. 

The law requires consumers be given a clear warning they may be exposed to chemicals that may cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm. 

The tobacco companies agreed to pay $2.75 million toward anti-tobacco education in California. The San Francisco Department of Public Health will receive $313,465. 

“The money couldn’t have come from a nicer bunch of fellows,” said James Wheaton of the Environmental Law Foundation of Oakland. Wheaton accused the companies of marketing sweetened products such as cherry-flavored chewing tobacco to children in order to “hook them for life.” 

The retail chains agreed to display warning signs in their stores. 

San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager approved the settlement, Renne said. 

The suit is the fourth successful suit the retiring Renne has filed for San Francisco against tobacco companies. Two of those suits were part of the national tobacco settlement in 1998 that resulted in $12 billion in payments to California cities and counties. San Francisco received $500 million.