Big tobacco focuses on the facts to hide the truth

Sep Tob

Donald J. Cohn of Webster & Sheffield, a cigarette manufacturer’s counsel, is shown  speaking to the jury in Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 683 F.Supp. 1487 (1988), in U.S. District Court D in New Jersey by Marilyn Church.  Source.

The language used by attorneys in tobacco litigation reveals key elements of the strategies deployed by cigarette makers and their courtroom opponents.  In a new article in Tobacco Control, Risi and Proctor use methods from computational linguistics to identify differences in the rhetorical strategies deployed by defense versus plaintiffs’ lawyers in cigarette litigation. 

They found that defense attorneys seek to place the smoker on trial, using his or her friends and family members to demonstrate that he or she must have been fully aware of the harms caused by smoking. Industry attorneys rarely mention personal responsibility but invoke that concept indirectly, by talking about ‘decisions’ made by the individual smoker and ‘risks’ they assumed. They conclude that quantitative analysis of court documents can reveal heretofore hidden patterns in courtroom rhetoric, including the weaponization of pronouns and the systematic avoidance of certain terms, such as ‘profits’ or ‘customer.’ They show how even seemingly trivial parts of speech—like pronouns—along with references to family members or words like ‘truth’ and ‘facts’ have been weaponized for use in litigation.

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