The role of public law-based litigation in tobacco companies' strategies in high-income, FCTC ratifying countries, 2004-14

J Public Health (Oxf). 2016 Sep;38(3):516-521. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdv068. Epub 2015 Jun 1.


Background: Tobacco companies use a host of strategies to undermine public health efforts directed to reduce and eliminate smoking. The success, failure and trends in domestic litigation used by tobacco companies to undermine tobacco control are not well understood, with commentators often assuming disputes are trade related or international in nature. We analyse domestic legal disputes involving tobacco companies and public health actors in high-income countries across the last decade to ascertain the types of action and the success or failure of cases, develop effective responses.

Methods: WorldLii, a publicly available online law repository, was used to identify domestic court cases involving tobacco companies from 2004 to 2014, while outcome data from LexisNexis and Westlaw databases were used to identify appeals and trace case history.

Results: We identified six domestic cases in the UK, Australia and Canada, noting that the tobacco industry won only one of six cases; a win later usurped by legislative reform and a further court case. Nevertheless, we found cases involve significant resource costs for governments, often progressing across multiple jurisdictional levels.

Discussion: We suggest that, in light of our results, while litigation takes up significant time and incurs legal costs for health ministries, policymakers must robustly fend off suggestions that litigation wastes taxpayers' money, pointing to the good prospects of winning such legal battles.

Keywords: global health; governance; law; litigation; tobacco.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Humans
  • Jurisprudence
  • Public Health Administration / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Smoking Cessation / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Tobacco Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • United Kingdom