The family of Tony Gwynn, a baseball Hall of Famer who died of salivary gland cancer in 2014, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Monday against the tobacco industry, charging that Gwynn had been manipulated into the addiction to smokeless tobacco that ultimately killed him.
The suit was filed in Superior Court in San Diego against Altria Group Inc., the tobacco giant formerly known as Philip Morris, and several other defendants who are accused of inducing Gwynn to begin using smokeless tobacco, or dip, at San Diego State University, which he attended from 1977 to 1981 and where he later coached after a 20-year career with the San Diego Padres.
For 31 years — 1977 to 2008 — Gwynn used one and a half to two cans of smokeless tobacco (usually Skoal) per day. It was the equivalent, the suit says, of four to five packs of cigarettes every day for 31 years. Gwynn would dip Skoal immediately upon waking up, the suit said, and sometimes fall asleep with the product in his right lip and cheek area.
There are no damages specified in the complaint, which asks for a jury trial on grounds of negligence, fraud and product liability. Essentially, the complaint says that Gwynn, while in college, was the victim of a scheme to get him, a rising star athlete, addicted to smokeless tobacco, while knowing the dangers it posed to him. The suit says that the industry was undergoing a determined effort at the time to market its products to African-Americans, and that Gwynn was a “marketing dream come true” for the defendants.
“Now that the family understands how he was targeted, they understand that the industry knew they had this highly carcinogenic product and they were marketing it to people like Tony,” said David S. Casey, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs. “They want to hold them accountable and let a jury make a decision as to what is proper in this case.”
Gwynn’s son, Tony Gwynn Jr., a former major league outfielder, is named as a plaintiff, along with the younger Gwynn’s mother, Alicia Gwynn, and his sister, Anisha Gwynn-Jones. Gwynn Jr. said his father, who was 54 when he died, did not smoke or drink and did not know how addictive or harmful smokeless tobacco would be when he first started dipping.
“The tobacco companies were using his addiction to turn him into their ultimate walking billboard,” Gwynn Jr. said. “He never knew it, but they were using him to promote their dip to the next generation of kids and fans who idolized him.”
Altria’s media relations department had no immediate comment when reached by telephone about the lawsuit.
-New York Times
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