Enduring Effects Of Tobacco Litigation

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Conference Papers -- Law & Society


Politics and Government


Leading up to the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998, lawsuits and threats of lawsuits against tobacco and nicotine framed issues to the advantage of those who favored more regulation of tobacco products and to the disadvantage of those who manufactured or marketed tobacco products. Thus had litigation and coverage of litigation in the 1990s reversed longstanding advantages that "Big Tobacco" had enjoyed in courtrooms, in political arenas, and especially in mass culture. Curious to see if the gains of tobacco opponents had persisted or faded since 1998, we analyzed thousands of words in spot-reports and thematic features from The New York Times. We found that vilification of tobacco companies has continued apace. Discovery, evidence, and testi¬mony that alleged corporate decep¬tions or assigned companies responsibility for nicotine addiction or public health costs had set¬tled into conventional presumptions in The Times by the 21st century. This "newspa¬per of record" continued to adhere to journalistic conventions regarding impartial de¬scrip¬tions of major actors in "The Tobacco Wars," so the 21st century has not seen many explicitly pejorative or meliorative characterizations of companies, reformers, victims, or governments - a continuation of the tendency of coverage in the 1980s and 1990s. We interpret our findings and interpretations to suggest that chronic expressive or symbolic ramifica¬tions of policy litigation may be potent even as the directly and instantly instru¬men¬tal consequences of suits to regulate products or to reform decision-makers fade. ..PAT.-Unpublished Manuscript



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