San Diego

Gwynn Family, Tobacco Company Reach Settlement in All-Star Tony Gwynn's Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Wrongful-death suit claims tobacco industry targeted and ultimately killed Tony Gwynn

The Gwynns and the company behind the famous San Diego Padre's favorite tobacco reached a settlement in a lawsuit that alleged the late Tony Gwynn's addiction was used to turn him into a "walking billboard."

The lawyers for both the baseball player's family and the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. announced they had reached a settlement on Friday but did not disclose the terms of the deal.

“We assess litigation on a case-by-case basis and determined this agreement was in the best interests of the company,” U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. spokesman Steve Callahan said in a statement to NBC 7.

Altria, which bought U.S. Smokeless Tobacco in 2009, settled with a Connecticut man for $5 million in a case similar to Gwynn's in 2010.

“The case has been settled to everyone’s satisfaction and the terms of the settlement remain confidential,” the Gwynn family's attorney David S. Casey Jr. told NBC 7.

Gwynn’s family filed the wrongful-death lawsuit against the tobacco industry in 2016, claiming the San Diego Padres legend was targeted to use the smokeless tobacco that led to cancer that killed him.

Gwynn, known by fans as "Mr. Padre," died in 2014 from salivary gland cancer at the age of 54. Before his death in 2014, Gwynn had multiple surgeries on his neck to remove both an abscess and a malignant tumor. 

"He never knew it but they were using him to promote their dip to the next generation of kids and fans who idolized him," Gwynn's daughter, Anisha Gwynn, said when the lawsuit was announced in San Diego.

The suit was filed in San Diego Superior Court against Altria Group, Inc. (formerly known as Philip Morris USA) and several other defendants. Altria Group, Inc. makes Skoal chewing tobacco, the brand Tony Gwynn preferred and used extensively. 

The Gwynn family alleged the tobacco industry induced Gwynn to begin using smokeless tobacco when he was a star athlete at San Diego State University in the late 1970’s. 

The tobacco company then "continued to deluge Tony during his college years with countless free samples of 'dip' tobacco products they purposely adulterated to make more addictive. All the while, they did not mention either the highly addictive nature of their products or their toxicity," the lawsuit read.

The Gwynn family alleged the tobacco industry chose Gwynn specifically because it was trying to market its product to African-Americans.

"Tony Gwynn was the Defendants' marketing dream come true," the lawsuit said. "They knew youngsters looking up to Tony would hope to one day hit like Tony, and be like Tony, so they would also want to 'dip' like Tony."

Gwynn used up to two cans of smokeless tobacco per day. The lawsuit claimed that is the equivalent of smoking four to five packs of cigarettes daily.

Gwynn used smokeless tobacco for 31 years, despite seeing signs it may be harming his health as early as the 1990’s. Gwynn admitted an addiction to the substance and when he tried to stop using he reportedly needed prescription drugs to fight the anxiety and cravings he felt in its absence.

The lawsuit did not specify damages but asked for a jury trial to rule on grounds of negligence, fraud and product liability by the tobacco industry. The suit was set to go to trial in San Diego in 2019. 

Gwynn’s death brought about a change in some part of baseball. Multiple young players have either stopped using smokeless tobacco or simply not picked up the habit because of what happened to Mr. Padre.

In 2016, Major League Baseball signed a collective bargaining agreement to prohibit new MLB players from using smokeless tobacco. Several major league cities had already established smokeless tobacco bans at their ballparks.  

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