Tobacco Lawsuit

Copyright 1998 City News Service
September 3, 1998

City Attorney Jim Hahn today amended a lawsuit against 16 tobacco companies to include allegations second-hand smoke exposes non-smokers to toxic chemicals.

Hahn sued the companies in Los Angele Superior Court July 14, alleging they violated Proposition 65, which requires them to warn the public about exposure to any chemical that causes cancer or reproductive toxicity.

He said second-hand smoke contains dioxin compounds, which are "among the most toxic chemicals known to mankind."

"Unfortunately, far too many people have been exposed to these notoriously deadly chemicals," Hahn said.

The city attorney is seeking civil penalties that could exceed $2.5 billion, along with an injunction that would force the companies to inform the public about second-hand smoke risks.

The city attorney has also requested that the tobacco companies provide a sworn statement supporting their claims that they warned non-smokers about the health hazards of second-hand smoke.

Lawyer Roger Carrick will represent the city in the suit. The firm is taking the case on a contingency basis, with a fee of 15 to 20 percent of whatever is awarded.

That means if the city loses, taxpayers won't be out any money, Hahn said.

Carrick, who wrote "The Proposition 65 Handbook," said "there is a witch's brew of chemicals that Californians are being exposed to through second-hand smoke."

One of those chemicals, Hahn said, is dioxin.

"Consequently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and regulatory agencies around the world, including the California Environmental Protection Agency through Proposition 65, are applying the strictest environmental standards to dioxin in order to protect public health," he said.

Several health and environmental agencies claim that up to 2,200 children born each year in California have below-normal birth weights. And about 48,000 to 120,000 children's asthma has been aggravated by second-hand smoke in California.

"I am concerned about all non-smokers who are exposed to tobacco smoke, but I am particularly concerned about children who are around smokers and, unlike adults, frequently do not have the freedom of movement to get away from it," Hahn said.

The city is also involved in other litigation against tobacco companies in an unlawful business practice lawsuit pending in San Diego County Superior Court.

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