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Enduring Effects of Tobacco Litigation
Unformatted Document Text:  was filed by the European Community and 10 member nations. A Saturday Globe and Mail headline on March 1, 2003, ran “Tobacco executives charged in $1.2 billion fraud” (Cheney and Malarek 2003). Since 2004, two major tobacco companies, Philip Morris International and Japan Tobacco International, have agreed to pay a combined $1.65 billion to the European Community and 10 member states to settle litigation that would have further exposed their involvement in cigarette smuggling. Most of these actions again were technically civil in foundation, but the allegations of racketeering, smuggling, and fraud, often joined to international protests that the tobacco industry was maliciously committing “crimes against humanity,” again underlined the long developing quasi­criminal public indictment in public life. 8 All in All: Legal Actions against Tobacco Mixed Civil and Criminal Strands into Increasingly Complex, Tangled Webs of Legal Challenge. Technically, the bulk of the action was in the civil arena, but the claims, agents, and forms of legal mobilization drew increasingly on hybrid crimtort logics of white collar crime prosecution during the 1990s. But how did this story play out in the courts of mass media, public opinion, and political discourse beyond the realms of litigation? Did the shift in the logic of the legal mobilization campaign enhance the struggle to shift the public agenda in discernible ways? We thus now turn to examine how tobacco litigation and policy discussion generally resonated in mass society from the 1980s to present. 3. Tobacco Wars and Legal Mobilization: Mass Media Constructions Earlier studies (Haltom and McCann 2004; Mather 1998) have shown how op­ ponents of tobacco had made advances in media stories during the Third Wave by build­ing on instrumental and symbolic effects of litigation. Our previous research in particular focused attention on how the individual responsibility frame supporting corporate pro­ducers was neutralized and even overshadowed somewhat in media coverage during the 1990s, although public opinion remained wedded to the ethos. We follow up those studies here with results from a new research design that added attention to three key elements. The first new wrinkle was to track media coverage of the “corporate duplicity” frame that was at the heart of the quasi­criminal legal campaign that developed in the 1990s. We will link findings on this frame to other themes in order to show how the media tracked, contributed to, and amplified the discursive “reframing” that took place. The impact on framing of overall “responsibility” themes, we shall see, was far more substantial and complex than our earlier study suggested. Second, we examined the “characterization” of key disputants in media coverage, testing specifically to determine whether some voices were vilified in the news, thus likely discounting their messages. Third, we extended the period of study through 2006 to assess whether transformations in media framing were sustained in the fourth wave of legal contestation. Research Design: Litigation-Heavy and Litigation-Light Samples. To probe more deeply the media constructions before, during, and after the Master Settlement Agreement, which seemed to close off at least some types of state lawsuits against “Big Tobacco,” we sampled coverage in The New York Times of legislative, litigative, and other arenas over the last decades. In particular, we determined to contrast newspaper coverage concerning tobacco reform in reports most and least concerned with specific 8 Our brief review does not cover the extensive literature contending that tobacco use actually “causes” crimes by smoking individuals. See The Crime Prevention Group.2003. 13

Authors: Haltom, William., McCann, Michael. and Fisher, Shauna.
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was filed by the European Community and 10 member nations.  A Saturday Globe and 
Mail
 headline on March 1, 2003, ran “Tobacco executives charged in $1.2 billion fraud” 
(Cheney and Malarek 2003). 
Since 2004, two major tobacco companies, 
 have agreed to pay a combined $1.65 
billion to the European Community and 10 member states to settle litigation that would 
have further exposed their involvement in cigarette smuggling.  Most of these actions 
again were technically civil in foundation, but the allegations of racketeering, smuggling, 
and fraud, often joined to international protests that the tobacco industry was maliciously 
committing “crimes against humanity,” again underlined the long developing quasi­
criminal public indictment in public life.
All in All: Legal Actions against Tobacco Mixed Civil and Criminal Strands 
into Increasingly Complex, Tangled Webs of Legal Challenge.  Technically, the bulk of 
the action was in the civil arena, but the claims, agents, and forms of legal mobilization 
drew increasingly on hybrid crimtort logics of white collar crime prosecution during the 
1990s.  But how did this story play out in the courts of mass media, public opinion, and 
political discourse beyond the realms of litigation?   Did the shift in the logic of the legal 
mobilization campaign enhance the struggle to shift the public agenda in discernible 
ways?  We thus now turn to examine how tobacco litigation and policy discussion 
generally resonated in mass society from the 1980s to present. 
 
3. Tobacco Wars and Legal Mobilization: Mass Media Constructions
Earlier studies (Haltom and McCann 2004; Mather 1998) have shown how op­
ponents of tobacco had made advances in media stories during the Third Wave by build­
ing on instrumental and symbolic effects of litigation. Our previous research in particular 
focused attention on how the individual responsibility frame supporting corporate pro­
ducers was neutralized and even overshadowed somewhat in media coverage during the 
1990s, although public opinion remained wedded to the ethos. We follow up those 
studies here with results from a new research design that added attention to three key 
elements. The first new wrinkle was to track media coverage of the “corporate duplicity” 
frame that was at the heart of the quasi­criminal legal campaign that developed in the 
1990s.  We will link findings on this frame to other themes in order to show how the 
media tracked, contributed to, and amplified the discursive “reframing” that took place. 
The impact on framing of overall “responsibility” themes, we shall see, was far more 
substantial and complex than our earlier study suggested. Second, we examined the 
“characterization” of key disputants in media coverage, testing specifically to determine 
whether some voices were vilified in the news, thus likely discounting their messages. 
Third, we extended the period of study through 2006 to assess whether transformations in 
media framing were sustained in the fourth wave of legal contestation.  
Research Design: Litigation-Heavy and Litigation-Light Samples. To probe 
more deeply the media constructions before, during, and after the Master Settlement 
Agreement, which seemed to close off at least some types of state lawsuits against “Big 
Tobacco,” we sampled coverage in The New York Times of legislative, litigative, and 
other arenas over the last decades.  In particular, we determined to contrast newspaper 
coverage concerning tobacco reform in reports most and least concerned with specific 
8
 Our brief review does not cover the extensive literature contending that tobacco use actually “causes” 
crimes by smoking individuals.  See The Crime Prevention Group.2003.
13


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