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Tobacco litigation, Parens patriae doctrine, Settlement agreement between the tobacco industry and the states, Alfred L. Snapp & Son, Inc. v. Puerto Rico, Liggett settlement, Parens patriae actions


Consumer Protection Law | Legal History | State and Local Government Law


On November 23, 1998, a master settlement agreement settled the lawsuits of forty-six states against the tobacco industry. The settlement brings about historic public health initiatives, such as the end to outdoor advertising, the ban on using cartoon characters in advertisements, and the creation of public education trusts. It also provides that the settling tobacco manufacturers will pay over $200 billion over the next twenty-five years. Some of the legal theories upon which states relied have implications beyond the tobacco litigation. Of particular importance is the application of the theory of parens patriae in the tobacco litigation. That theory may prove useful and important in the other kinds of attorney general actions discussed in this Article and in actions not yet contemplated. Parens patriae is a theory that plainly concerned the tobacco industry because the settlement agreement between the industry and the states expressly covers parens patriae actions. But the principles developed and precedents considered in shaping the parens patriae doctrine for the tobacco litigation have important implications for other potential actions by attorneys general, such as the gun and lead paint litigations. This Article briefly overviews the doctrine of parens patriae and then discusses its doctrinal background and scope in great detail. The Article shows that parens patriae principles are accepted by state courts and addresses the specific benefits and limitations on uses of the doctrine.

Publication Citation

Published in: Tulane Law Review, vol. 74, nos. 5 & 6 (June 2000).