“Oil as the new tobacco” — and what that might mean

Promoters of the “Exxon Knew” climate denial subpoena campaign have made a point of saying they intend to repeat the playbook of the 1990s multi-state and federal tobacco litigation, this time with the energy industry and its various trade associations, allies, and non-profit/university well-wishers as targets. But what does it mean to repeat the tobacco playbook? As one who has written at length about that episode (along with various other authors including Cato’s Robert Levy, the late Martha Derthick, and Margaret Little) I can help spell out what that means. The public-sector tobacco litigation fell out of favor as a policy model because it was the scene of vast corruption fueled by the availability of billions in fees to politically favored private lawyers; because of its grotesque violations of elemental legal fairness, such as the enactment of statutes retroactively knocking out legal defenses for the state’s opponents; because of its quick-change remake of purported initial idealism into cash on the barrelhead as the primary driver of settlement; and because of its grave civil liberties violations such as the federal government’s assertion of a right to close down industry trade associations and seize their files. Are advocates of the new climate-denial litigation hoping for it to follow the same path? [Valerie Richardson, Washington Times, thanks for quoting me]


  • Are advocates of the new climate-denial litigation hoping for it to follow the same path?

    Yes and Yes and Yes. Short answer yes. Long answer hell yes. The politicians advocating this method know that it is easy way to score political points and steer funds to connected constituents who will then kick back the money to their campaign coffers. The more cunning lawyers know that following the exact tobacco litigation playbook is a way to get extremely rich.

  • While the tobacco settlement had many issues, this post does conveniently gloss over the bit where the big tobacco companies engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to spread uncertainty and put out research with false or misleading claims about the health effects of smoking (a conspiracy we only began to understand after documents were released as part of the settlement in fact). This led to the famous testimony in 1994 where seven tobacco CEOs all told Congress under oath that nicotine wasn’t addictive. Millions more people died and government spent billions on health care expenditures that could have been avoided if people had accurate information about the dangers of smoking years earlier.

    • mx,

      As is typical of this blog, the owner gives a brief overview of the issues and then gives links to follow in order for a more detailed and informative presentation.

      The Washington Times link has this quote from some guy and author named “Walter Olson:”

      <emIn terms of consumer fraud, “The line that tobacco companies were alleged to have crossed was [devising] a scheme in large part to get people to buy their product by misrepresenting what was in it,” said Mr. Olson, who discussed the litigation in his 2004 book, “The Rule of Lawyers: How the Litigation Elite Threatens America’s Rule of Law.”

      “In order for there to be a parallel, you would have to have a lawsuit on behalf of people who filled their tank at the gas station because you said it was environmentally good, and now that they find it was environmentally bad, they say, ‘I would never have filled my tank with your gas. I would have bicycled instead of owning a car if I had only known,’” said Mr. Olson.

      In some ways I think that means the information think should be in the post is there, but you just have to drill down for it.

  • mx,
    I’ve always found it funny that until the late 90’s the US Government was the largest wholesaler of tobacco products. If I look I still have a “ration card” from when I was in the Navy. In World War II, Korea and Vietnam, cigarettes were in your food ration pack. How many people started smoking while serving in the military?

    • Yes, indeed. As I’ve written, “Never in American history did per-capita cigarette production rise as fast as it did during the Second World War” and the American military in both WWI and WWII actively pushed consumption by servicemen. That’s one of many ways in which our government was, as they say, conflicted when it turned around decades later and tried to blame it all on cunning marketing tricks by tobacco companies.


  • Billions of dollars in health care… And exactly how much tax revenue was received with all the sales? Tobacco was a cash cow while it was in favor and after it fell. Both state and federal governments double dipped to their hearts content.