Tobacco Litigation

By Linda Topping Streitfeld

Matt Myers compares the tobacco industry to a 2-year-old without a moral compass, who just keeps doing the wrong thing until someone forces him to stop.

Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, helped create the nonprofit in 1996 and been a driving force in all major victories against the tobacco industry in the U.S. Myers was among the speakers during a National Press Foundation training program for 17 international journalists at the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi.

His latest challenge? Lawsuits filed by tobacco companies against small countries, challenging requirements that cigarette packaging be plain or have large graphic warnings. The companies have sued in international courts, claiming that the regulations reduce the value of their products in violation of international trade agreements. The cost of defending such lawsuits is so great that nonprofits such as Bloomberg Philanthropies have kicked in millions to beef up the legal coffers of small nations such as Uruguay.

Myers and CTFK worked with comedian Jon Oliver, whose recent routine on the tobacco industry has been viewed by millions. The comedy team spoofed the tobacco companies’ marketing to children by creating a “fun” character -- a diseased lung named Jeff. It’s even spawned a hashtag – “#Jeffwecan.”