A North Carolina widow has won a $5 million settlement against a smokeless tobacco company five years after her husband died of tongue cancer from using their dangerous products. While wrongful death suits against tobacco companies are nothing new, this successful large settlement from a tobacco chew company is certainly notable and may open the door for similar wrongful death cases. Lawsuits involving cigarette smoking have been successful in the past, but this is the first smokeless tobacco case to end in a victory for the cancer victim’s family.
Bobby Hill of Canton, North Carolina, began using smokeless tobacco at the age of 13. He died at the age of 42 from tongue cancer, for which he endured several painful operations before his death to remove his tongue and part of his mouth. In 2005, Bobby’s wife, Kelly, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the maker of the products that her husband used for decades, US Smokeless Tobacco Company.
During the case, evidence was brought to light that the company had sent letters and free samples to children during the 1980s that encouraged their use of the product – one document showed the company sending a can opener to one young user.
A spokesman for the US Smokeless Tobacco Company said that it supports programs that reduce the use of their products by those who are underage. Opponents of the company say that their product is just as dangerous as cigarette smoke, with users often dying of mouth and tongue cancer that leads to disfigurement and painful treatments. Opponents also claim that the company markets their products to seem safer than smoking cigarettes.