SW Legal studies in Business

Nations May Not Sue Tobacco Industry for Health Care Consequences of Smoking
Description Appeals court dismissed a suit brought by several nations, on the theory of parens patriae, against the tobacco industry to recover public health care costs incurred by those nations. Such suits are not allowed unless permitted by the Supreme Court or by federal law. Individuals in those nations may pursue their own actions.
Topic International Law
Key Words Parens Patriae; Public Health Expenses; Tobacco
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The Republic of Guatemala and other nations sued the tobacco companies and the industry's public relations organization, seeking to recover the health care costs that they have incurred in treating their citizens' smoking-related illnesses. They contend that national public policies require them to provide free health care and other services to all citizens, or at least to those who cannot afford to pay for such benefits. The nations claim that they should recover the economic harm suffered by their public health programs under their role as parens patriae, whereby the nations act on behalf of their citizens against the tobacco industry. The district court dismissed the suits. The nations appealed.

Affirmed. "The nations' assertion that they may proceed in parens patriae is a dubious assertion at best ... parens patriae standing should not be recognized in a foreign nation (by contrast with a State in this country) unless there is a clear indication by the Supreme Court or one of the two coordinate branches of government to grant such standing." Parens patriae "does not create a boundless opportunity for governments to seek recovery for alleged wrongs against them or their residents." Individual smokers "may be counted on to vindicate the public interests at stake ... by asserting various theories of recovery against the tobacco industry." If the nations were allowed to sue, and citizens could too, there would be too many instances of double recovery.

Citation The Republic of Guatemala v. The Tobacco Institute, Inc., 249 F.3d 1068 (D.C. Cir., 2001)

Back to International Law Listings

©1997-2002  SW Legal Studies in Business. All Rights Reserved.