Minnesota Litigation and Settlement

“The Minnesota tobacco litigation of the 1990s changed the way America approaches the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the United States.

Cigarette manufacturers had been the subject of 300 lawsuits by smokers over the course of forty years. Tobacco manufacturers had won every case, and had never paid a penny in settlement or awards to victims. In August 1994, Minnesota Attorney General Hubert H. (“Skip”) Humphrey teamed up with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi to defy the odds and declare war on the tobacco epidemic. Their unprecedented suit—State of Minnesota v. Philip Morris—alleged a 50-year conspiracy to defraud America about the hazards of smoking, to stifle development of safer cigarettes, and to target children as new customers.

The largest case in Minnesota history, the lawsuit eventually involved hundreds of legal motions and a dozen appeals, including two to the Supreme Court of the United States, as Minnesota focused its efforts on battling its way into the tobacco industry's internal document vaults, which had never seen the light of day. After years of effort, a fifteen-week trial and testimony by world-leading experts and tobacco CEOs, the case resulted in a massive settlement that still stands as the fourth largest legal settlement in all of history, anywhere. The tobacco giants were ordered to stop targeting kids, bring down all tobacco billboards, end the branded merchandise they had showered on children, end paid product placement in movies, and more. The State of Minnesota would receive more than $6 billion over the first 25 years and about $200 million annually thereafter, forever. $200 million were set aside for a public health foundation, and Blue Cross would dedicate its recovery to long-term health improvement for the entire state. Perhaps most importantly, 35 million pages of long-secret documents were opened for public scrutiny. They have resulted in 450 published scientific articles and government reports, and their revelations about political trickery have altered the course of national debates from Egypt to Argentina.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop called it one of the greatest public health achievements of the twentieth century. The World Health Organization gave Attorney General Humphrey its Tobacco Free World Award, and the attorneys were named U.S. Trial Attorneys of the Year. The disclosures unleashed by the Minnesota documents lit a fire of indignation that helped drive adoption of the world's first public health treaty, the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The treaty has been ratified by 140 nations representing three-quarters of the world's population, and is transforming the way the world deals with the epidemic of tobacco use that is presently on course to claim an unthinkable 100 million lives by the end of this century.”

Doug Blanke, Comments at “The Minnesota Tobacco Settlement: 10-Year Anniversary” sponsored by the Tobacco Law Center and BlueCross BlueShield of Minnesota, May 8, 2008.

Legal Tobacco Documents and Orders

Select Resources

  • Minnesota Tobacco Litigation News Items and Documents 1998 at www.tobacco.org.  News articles, legal documents and related resources from the Minnesota tobacco litigation.  Although several links may be inactive, the information on this site contains significant dates, events, and quotes from news items, and can be used as an historical bibliography.
  • Symposium – Tobacco Regulation: The Convergence of Law, Medicine & Public Health, 25 William Mitchell Law Review 2 (1999).  Compelling collection of essays and articles by many key players in the historic Minnesota tobacco litigation, including contributions from Michael Ciresi, Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey, III,  Richard D. Hurt, and Roberta Walburn. 
  • Michael Pertschuk, Smoke in Their Eyes: Lessons in Movement Leadership from the Tobacco Wars, Vanderbilt University Press (2001). Historical analysis of struggle to enact federal tobacco control legislation at a time when Minnesota litigation was underway.
  • Deborah C. Rybak & David Phelps, Smoked:  The Inside Story of the Minnesota Tobacco Trial, MSP Communications (1998). Story of the backstage drama behind the Minnesota tobacco trial.

Minnesota Tobacco Settlement

Minnesota's 1998 settlement with major cigarette manufacturers remains a milestone in American legal history. The world's fourth largest legal settlement, it not only generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually — forever — for Minnesota's treasury, but also imposes permanent legal restrictions on the activities of the cigarette manufacturers. Among other things, the settlement:

  • Prohibits marketing to youth.
  • Prohibits misrepresentations about the health consequences of tobacco use.
  • Bans merchandise bearing cigarette brand names or logos.
  • Ends cigarette billboards and transit advertising.
  • Bans any payment for the placement of cigarettes in movies.
  • Prohibits anti-competitive practices.
  • Requires disclosure of the companies' lobbying expenditures.
  • Requires cigarette manufacturers to maintain public document depositories to house 30 million pages of once-secret documents disclosed in the case.
  • Sets aside $200 million to help smokers who want to quit, support tobacco-related research and promote tobacco control.

Key Resources

Tobacco Document Depositories

Two depositories of tobacco documents were established as a result of the Minnesota tobacco litigation:

  • The Minnesota Tobacco Document Depository, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, contains over 35 million pages of material discovered in the course of the State of Minnesota and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota’s litigation against the tobacco industry. The depository also contains copies of discovery material from all subsequent tobacco litigation in the United States.  It is open to the public, independently managed under court supervision pursuant to settlement terms, and offers copying and CD-ROM creation services.  It does not include documents produced by the world’s second largest tobacco company, British American Tobacco (BAT).
  • The British American Tobacco (BAT) Archives, located in Guildford, near London, England, contains approximately 6-7 million pages of internal corporate documents related to British American Tobacco Company (BATCo) and its parent, BAT Industries PLC.  The public may view and request copies of materials produced in the course of the Minnesota litigation.  Access to the Guildford Depository is by appointment only and subject to a number of restrictions and conditions imposed by BAT.