Tony Gwynn died in 2014 at the age of 54 from salivary gland cancer, a disease which he attributed to three decades of chewing smokeless tobacco. He underwent several surgeries during his career to manage salivary gland problems, and he was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. Gwynn blamed his tobacco habit for his disease (he chewed one-and-a-half to two packs a day for 31 years) and his family agrees with him.
His widow, daughter, and son filed a wrongful death suit against Altria Group (formerly Phillip Morris) today alleging that Gwynn died because of his chewing habit, which they say he was manipulated into by the industry, per the New York Times. Gwynn’s family says that he was seduced into starting to dip in college by Phillip Morris and that he was unaware of the dangers:
There are no damages specified in the complaint, which asks for a jury trial on grounds of negligence, fraud and product liability. Essentially, the complaint says that Gwynn, while in college, was the victim of a scheme to get him, a rising star athlete, addicted to smokeless tobacco, while knowing the dangers it posed to him. The suit said the industry was undergoing a determined effort at the time to market its products to African-Americans, and that Gwynn was a “marketing dream come true” for the defendants.
The suit is timed well, as a pair of anti-chew rulings have banned the stuff from New York and Chicago stadiums starting this season (California already has a ban in place). It’s not one hundred percent certain that chewing tobacco killed Gwynn, but asking for an open trial without seeking personal damages seems like the sort of move you’d make to try to get a precedent set.
Here’s what his son told the Times.
“The tobacco companies were using his addiction to turn him into their ultimate walking billboard,” Gwynn Jr. said. “He never knew it, but they were using him to promote their dip to the next generation of kids and fans who idolized him.”
Update (10:07 p.m.): Here’s the full lawsuit.