Litigation in the US against the tobacco industry started in the 1950s as the health risks of smoking became higher profile. The industry reacted in various ways to the implications of the growing evidence that smoking was related to various illnesses, and analysis of the multitude of “secret” documents has highlighted a long campaign questioning the veracity of the analysis undertaken. It is clear that the various companies’ private views were at odds with public views through until the late 1990s. It is said that the industry maintained its stance towards health risks while “knowing the truth” but denying it in public.
To damn the companies for their behaviour during the period of the 1950s through to the end of the 1990s is easy enough for many and to even debate the issue could be seen as futile. It does, however, require us to consider yesterday’s behaviour by the standards of today’s knowledge and attitudes. It also assumes that the only information available to consumers was that provided by the tobacco companies and that information from them bore more weight than all other information available. We must also look at the behaviour of those (still) calling the tobacco companies to account, at the time and subsequently.