- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2001

After 46 U.S. states settled their lawsuits with cigarette manufacturers for a record $206 billion in late 1998, a small band of Americas most ambitious tort lawyers began looking for another gold-plated ambulance to chase. Since there were few U.S. smokers who had not been herded into class-action lawsuits, the anti-tobacco lawyers began trolling in Latin American nations suffering financially from such natural disasters as hurricanes as well as man-made ones, such as mismanaged economies.

Their plan was to use the same tactics in Latin America that had worked so successfully in the United States sue tobacco companies to recover the cost of all the smoking-related medical bills racked up by citizens over the years. Not, mind you, the local tobacco companies which actually advertised and marketed cigarettes in their countries, but rather the multinational companies that had displayed such deep pockets in settling the American lawsuits. The governments of five nations Guatemala, Bolivia, Panama, Venezuela and Nicaragua quickly signed on, but none of the nations was willing to take a chance on filing a lawsuit against the tobacco companies in their own courts.

There was a certain method to their madness. All five nations were and are heavily involved in regulating, distributing, promoting and taxing cigarettes, and have been for years. Given their up-to-the-neck involvement in pushing their citizens to smoke, even some of their friendlier judges likely would have laughed them out of court. The five Latin governments and Ukraine also were worried about upsetting foreign investors by attacking a large foreign industry at home, but had no qualms about suing them in Washington, or New York City, or Chicago, for that matter. Adding to their hypocrisy is the fact that these countries have been taxing the sale of tobacco products for years and have been reaping the rewards of these sales.

The decision by the Latin Americans to journey northward has set off a kind of international gold rush by nations across the globe as emerging nations with empty treasuries flock to America to file suit here against any U.S. products that may prove dangerous if used intemperately. In recent months, class-action lawsuits by foreign nations and foreign citizens have been filed in U.S. courts against producers of beer and wine, hunting rifles, sport utility vehicles, Viagra and over-the-counter medication.

However, the foreign governments that American tobacco lawyers trundled into U.S. courts to sue cigarette manufacturers were dealt a setback lasy week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed the case in a unanimous joint ruling. This is all to the good as these cases were without legal merit and would have set a dangerous precedent if allowed to stand.


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