Consumers across the nation will begin seeing health warning labels on cigars, pipe tobacco and loose-leaf tobacco products as a result of the warning requirements of Proposition 65, an industry spokesman said Tuesday.
Twenty-five tobacco manufacturers, settling a lawsuit brought by Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, agreed that within 150 days they will put labels on the products sold in California to warn the public of the danger of cancer and birth defects.
As a practical matter, this will mean also giving the same warning to consumers in other states, according to a spokesman for the Cigar Assn. of America.
“Because of the manufacturing and distribution practices of the national cigar manufacturers, it would be impossible for them to label only for California,” said Norman Sharp, president of the association.
Hailed as Victory
Environmentalist groups hailed the settlement as a major victory that demonstrates the power of Proposition 65 and sets a nationwide precedent for providing health warnings on all tobacco products. It also could lead to labels on food and other products that contain toxic chemicals.
Although federal law has required warnings on cigarette packages for more than two decades, it exempts cigars, pipe tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco products from the requirements.
The tobacco companies, facing the possibility of huge fines under Proposition 65, settled the lawsuit only 18 days after it was filed by the attorney general.
“This loophole has been in federal law for 20 years and Proposition 65 has closed it in three weeks,” said David Roe, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund and a principal author of the initiative. “This is an impressive early victory for Proposition 65.”
Law Requires Warnings
The anti-toxics initiative, approved by the voters nearly two years ago, requires businesses to provide “clear and reasonable” warnings if they expose the public to chemicals that can cause cancer or birth defects. Companies that break the law can face fines of up to $2,500 per day for each violation.
The enforcement action against the tobacco companies was initiated by a coalition of four environmental groups and subsequently taken over by Van de Kamp. The tobacco companies will pay the environmental groups $75,000 for their court costs and will give the state another $75,000 for its costs.
Van de Kamp said he did not seek fines against the tobacco manufacturers because they “eagerly and quickly agreed to our demands.” But he warned that other violators of the law may not fare as well, saying, “The law is clear. My intentions are clear. Proposition 65 will be vigorously enforced.”
Van de Kamp said he is still negotiating a settlement with eight supermarket chains named in the suit because they carry tobacco products.
Roe said the lawsuit is an important test case that will affect how the nation’s food manufacturers comply with the initiative in cases where individual products contain hazardous chemicals.
“Tobacco is the headline grabber, but it’s the whole food supply and quality control for the food supply that this case is about,” he said.
The settlement has established that labels on packages--widely opposed by industry--provide the kind of warnings envisioned by the law, Roe said.
Some of the tobacco companies had relied on a controversial toll-free hot line warning system set up by manufacturers of food and other household products. But, once the law suit was filed, they decided not to defend the warning system in court.
“One thing that’s very clear to me is that nobody wants to stand up and defend that gimmick in a court of law,” Roe said.