Family of Tony Gwynn officially announces lawsuit against tobacco company

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — San Diego-based law firms CaseyGerry and the Law Offices of Donald P. Tremblay have filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the family of San Diego Padre Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. 

The family filed the lawsuit in the San Diego Superior Court Monday, saying tobacco companies "manipulated" Gwynn into using smokeless tobacco starting when Gwynn was a college player at San Diego State.

Then, for 31 years, he used up to two cans per day. That’s the equivalent of five packs of cigarettes every day.

“For years before they were forced to put warnings on their products, and well afterwards, the tobacco companies in this lawsuit concealed what they knew about the risks of using dip, misled the public about those risks, and pushed highly addictive and cancer-causing products on the public," said CaseyGerry attorney David S. Casey, Jr. "In the late 1970s, as Tony Gwynn was entering San Diego State University as a minor, they ran a sophisticated marketing campaign targeting minors, African Americans, college students, and athletes. Sadly, Tony Gwynn was their perfect target, and in 2014 he and his family paid for it when he died of cancer caused by his addiction to and prolonged use of the tobacco companies’ products at the young age of 54.  Now the family is seeking justice.”

Related Link: Family of baseball star Tony Gwynn files lawsuit against tobacco company

“Second only to our family, my dad loved the sport of baseball," Gwynn’s son, Tony Gwynn, Jr. added. "He loved competing, he loved the Padres, and he loved the players. He knew dip caused his cancer, and he would be relieved to know that his death was a catalyst for getting dip out of baseball. Our dad was an elite athlete who didn’t drink or smoke because he cared about his health and performance. If he had known how addictive and harmful to his health dip was, he would not have started using it in college, become addicted, and died so young.”

Gwynn used smokeless tobacco for 31 years, and admitted his addiction when he tried to stop. He had multiple surgeries on his neck to remove an abscess and a tumor and died from salivary gland cancer in 2014 at the age of 54.

“Throughout his career, our dad was proud of his work helping kids and being a positive role model to his fans.  But the whole time, the tobacco companies were using his addiction to turn him into their ultimate walking billboard.  He never knew it, but they were using him to promote their dip to the next generation of kids and fans who idolized him, and who he was out there working to help," said Gwynn’s daughter, Anisha Gwynn-Jones.

“He wouldn’t want to see another player, or any other person, have to get sick and die because of what these tobacco companies did.  And in order to make that happen, these companies have to be held accountable.”

The company has not commented on the lawsuit, which was filed Monday.

The lawsuit (case number 37-2016-00017104-CU-PO-CTL) states:

"The defendants knowingly promoted addictive and cancer-causing products: They knew their dip was addictive and caused cancer well before they showered Tony with free samples and got him addicted as a college student and athlete at San Diego State University.  They have known nicotine was addictive since the 1920s, they were notified that their dip products had extreme levels of carcinogens in 1974, and by 1975 their own scientists had confirmed this.  Despite having the knowledge and ability to reduce the health risks of their products, they instead chose to increase the risks by adding chemicals to make their products even more addictive, putting profits over consumer safety.

They misled consumers into thinking smokeless tobacco was a safe alternative to smoking:  The U.S. Surgeon General first linked smoking to cancer in 1964.  The defendants responded to the increased public awareness that followed by rebranding their dip, which was previously called oral tobacco, as “smokeless” tobacco, misleading the public into thinking that it was a safe alternative to smoking.  They funded bogus research to create the illusion of scientific “controversy” as to these dangers, long after there was no longer any legitimate controversy in the relevant scientific and medical communities.  They also participated with state and national lobbying organizations to fight mandatory consumer warnings regarding the danger of addiction and cancer posed by their products.  Not only did they fail to provide warnings of known dangers, they even instructed users to ignore signs of injury like “irritation of the gum” because “learning is part of the fun and these things will pass with practice.”

Addiction was their business plan and the key to their marketing strategy: They created a sophisticated marketing strategy called “Graduation.”  This involved introducing new low-nicotine dip varieties flavored like candy and mint to get young users addicted, and giving away free samples of those starter products knowing that once users were addicted they would “graduate” to higher and higher nicotine varieties to satisfy their addiction, making it extremely difficult for them to ever quit.

They specifically targeted African-American men: They developed a “Black Marketing Program” including “Project Apollo” which used demographic data to target the largest African-American population centers nationwide.  The project targeted African-American men who worked in settings where they could not smoke, along with those who were concerned about the health effects of smoking.  They identified and advertised in “ethnic publications,” used Hall of Fame African-American football player Earl Campbell to market to this “untapped” market, and held live talent shows across the country where they gave away free samples of their highly addictive products without any warnings.

They specifically targeted minors: They shamelessly marketed to minors by developing sweet, fruit, and mint flavored product lines to appeal to them.  Their own sales staff put it best, “Cherry Skoal is for someone who likes the taste of candy, if you know what I mean.”  Internal documents show that they were aware that a significant proportion of their consumers were children, that they targeted this underage market, and that they even sent samples to underage users who wrote letters complaining that they could not afford their dip habit on their weekly allowance.

They specifically targeted college students and athletes: They created a nationwide college marketing program to get college students and athletes, who they referred to as “future growth base” addicted to their dip.  They recruited students to give away free samples of their addictive products, especially to sports teams, and to develop peer pressure on campuses.  This program was active at San Diego State University during the time Tony Gwynn was a student and athlete there, and he was provided with countless free samples by their college reps without any warnings.  During that time, they sponsored a softball team called the “Skoal Brothers” at San Diego State University along with other on-campus events centered on using dip.

Tony was their perfect target and their plan worked on him:  As an aspiring athlete, he saw and heard the ads during television and radio broadcasts of sports events and in sports magazines.  He looked up to their sports figure spokesmen and received their message that using dip and being a sports star went together.  At San Diego State, their campus reps gave him countless free samples of these addictive products, and he was especially targeted as a member of a sports team.  And once his addiction was under way, he even sent off for more free samples through mail-in coupon offers.  Their plan had worked, and years before the first warnings appeared on the labels he had turned into a self-described “tobacco-junkie.”

Tony developed cancer in his salivary gland:  The salivary gland where Tony’s cancer developed has a duct leading to the same spot where he held their cancer-causing dip in his mouth all day for more than 30 years.  A peer-reviewed and published epidemiological study by Dr. Gary Lyman, Co-Director of the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, establishes that users of dip are five times as likely as non-users to develop cancer of the salivary glands, and face greater risks of developing salivary cancer than people smoking up to 20 cigarettes per day.

Tony was an elite athlete who did not drink or smoke because he cared about his health and his performance:  If he had known how addictive and harmful to his health dip was, he would not have used it during college, become addicted, and died so young.

Throughout his career, Tony actively worked to help kids and to be a positive role model to his fans:  All the while, the defendants used his addiction to turn him into the ultimate walking billboard, transforming him into an unwitting promoter of deadly products to those same kids and fans who idolized him and who he worked so hard to help."  

Categories: Local San Diego News, top story testing