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February 2002

Shedding Light on the Tobacco Industry

By Robert J. Ambrogi

As part of the historic 1998 settlement between the tobacco industry and 46 state attorneys general, tobacco manufacturers agreed to provide public access to industry documents produced through the discovery process. The settlement stipulated that the participating manufacturers would provide the public this access through a series of Web sites that the industry would maintain until June 30, 2010.

A year ago, fearing the eventual loss of public access to these documents, the American Legacy Foundation awarded $15 million to the University of California, San Francisco, to establish permanent Internet access to the documents and to develop a center for scholarly study of the material.

On Jan. 31, the UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management unveiled the site that is to provide that permanent access, the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. It houses more than 20 million pages of documents from tobacco industry files, many of them secret until uncovered in litigation, and stands as the world's largest public digital collection maintained by a library.

Ranging in date from the 1930s to the 1990s, the documents provide insight into tobacco industry marketing, research and development, cigarette analysis and design, and efforts to establish business in developing countries.

The library allows seven separate document collections to be searched through one easy-to-use interface. Users can perform simple or advanced searches, view documents in a variety of image formats, and collect their findings in a digital "bookbag" that they can download or e-mail. The site also provides information on topics related to the documents, such as the history of tobacco, litigation, tobacco use and health, and youth smoking.

The UCSF library stands out for enabling access to all these documents through a single search interface. But, for now at least, it is not alone in providing access to these documents. As the settlement provided, the manufacturers - Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard - each have sites providing access to documents, as do the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research. Any of these can be reached from TobaccoResolution.com.

Another outstanding site for public access is Tobacco Industry Documents, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control. The source for the bulk of this material is the Minnesota Tobacco Document Depository, reportedly the world's largest hardcopy cache of tobacco industry documents. With more than 27 million pages, the depository was created in 1995 to house documents from the trial in Minnesota v. Philip Morris Inc., and grew to include documents made public through other lawsuits as well as congressional investigations.

The CDC site is organized into four sections:

  • Industry sites. This section provides links to other sites that have tobacco industry documents, including the industry sites created pursuant to the settlement.
  • 4B Index. Tobacco company defendants created this as a systematic way to access the documents that were released in the Minnesota litigation.
  • Minnesota Select Set. This is a subset of roughly 380,000 pages of the total Minnesota Depository pages that were selected by lawyers as being key to the trial. They are available both as images of the original documents and as text files scanned from the documents and can be searched by full text.
  • Guildford-British American Tobacco Documents. Another subset of the Minnesota collection, these are some 7,000 documents, chosen by lawyers for having the greatest relevance to the Minnesota trial and the population of that state.
Other Tobacco Sites

For those interested in learning more about tobacco litigation, the following sites provide background:
  • Inside the Tobacco Deal. Although somewhat out of date, this site tells the fascinating story of how two small-town Mississippi lawyers took on the tobacco industry. Based on a Frontline documentary that aired May 12, 1998, on PBS, the site reconstructs the battle that started when Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore joined with his "Ole Miss" classmate Dick Scruggs and sued tobacco companies on behalf of the state's taxpayers to recoup money spent on health care for smokers.
  • Tobacco Litigation Documents. This site contains key litigation documents from the cases brought by the attorneys general and from similar actions against the tobacco industry. Now part of the UCSF collection, the collection was originally developed by the Tobacco Control Resource Center at Northeastern University, Boston. It was formerly on the Web under the name State Tobacco Information Center.
  • Tobacco Control Resource Center. Home to the TCRC and the Tobacco Products Liability Project, projects of Northeastern University School of Law that provide support to products liability litigation against the tobacco industry and to legislative and regulatory initiatives to control the sale and use of tobacco. It provides current news and analysis of tobacco-related litigation throughout the U.S., as well as libraries and archives of court opinions, litigation filings, industry documents, and news reports.
  • Tobacco BBS. Established in 1993 as a dial-in bulletin board system (BBS) and later migrated to the Web, this site focuses on a range of tobacco and smoking issues. It features legal, regulatory and health news and information, as well as a broad-ranging collection of links to tobacco resources and documents elsewhere on the Web.
  • Tobacco-Related Web Sites. This is a modest collection of links to tobacco-related Web sites, as well as to information on tobacco litigation in Ohio.

Robert J. Ambrogi, rambrogi@amlaw.com, is author of the book, "The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web," available at www.lawcatalog.com, and editorial director of the National Law Journal, www.nlj.com.

© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.