Family Steps To The Plate For Justice
The family of deceased Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn said Tuesday that the San Diego Padres great’s tobacco addiction was partially the result of a vast marketing campaign in the 1970s, and that Gwynn would be “relieved to know that his death was a catalyst for getting dip out of baseball.”
Gwynn’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the tobacco industry in San Diego Superior Court on Monday, seeking unspecified damages in the wake of Gwynn’s 2014 death at age 54 from salivary gland cancer, a condition caused in large part by his 31 years using smokeless tobacco.
The suit names Altria Group, Inc. — formerly Philip Morris Companies, Inc. — and its subsidiaries as defendants. Attorneys representing the family cite the tobacco industry’s significant marketing campaign in the late 1970s that targeted young people, African Americans and athletes, despite knowing its products contained carcinogens. Gwynn, they say, received free samples of smokeless tobacco as a student, baseball and basketball player at San Diego State University.
“Sadly, Tony Gwynn was their perfect target, and in 2014 he and his family paid for it when he died of cancer caused by his addiction to and prolonged use of the tobacco companies’ products at the young age of 54,” David S. Casey Jr., one of the Gwynns’ attorneys, said in a statement released before a Tuesday news conference in San Diego. “Now the family is seeking justice.”
Gwynn amassed 3,141 hits over 20 years, all with San Diego, where he was known as “Mr. Padre.” He was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2007 and served as San Diego State’s baseball coach for 12 seasons until his medical condition worsened.
“He knew dip caused his cancer, and he would be relieved to know that his death was a catalyst for getting dip out of baseball,” said Tony Gwynn Jr., who played eight major league seasons. “Our dad was an elite athlete who didn’t drink or smoke because he cared about his health and performance. If he had known how addictive and harmful to his health dip was, he would not have started using it in college, become addicted and died so young.”
The lawsuit states that the industry honed in on young African-American men in particular, citing a “Project Apollo” marketing campaign that would distribute free samples in “the largest African-American population centers nationwide.”
“They identified and advertised in ‘ethnic publications,’ used Hall of Fame African-American football player Earl Campbell to market to this ‘untapped’ market and held live talent shows across the country where they gave away free samples of their highly addictive products without any warnings,” Gwynn’s attorneys stated.
The lawsuit includes advertisements from the 1970s featuring sports stars of the era, including Campbell, as well as internal marketing documents used by tobacco companies. One poster featuring Campbell and fellow sports stars Walt Garrison, Shep Messing, Bobby Murcer and Carlton Fisk includes the headline, “How to sell tobacco to people who don’t smoke.”
The lawsuit says that once addicted to smokeless tobacco, Gwynn would use one to two tins of Skoal per day, dipping between his cheek and gum, near the area where he developed cancer.
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