In a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., a state judge recently halted enforcement of what may be the most restrictive anti-smoking statute in the nation. The village of Friendship Heights recently banned smoking in all public places, including sidewalks and streets. The case remains in court.
In Florida, the Vector Group of Miami (which owns the Liggett cigarette business) is introducing a cigarette made from genetically modified tobacco that is low in nicotine. The company wants to win FDA approval to sell the cigarette as a tool to quit smoking.
If the FDA nixes that idea, Vector has a Plan B. Hype the new cigarette's lack of addictive power.
A cigarette without smoker craving? That could make for a tricky sales pitch.
Tobacco's biggest challenge may be overseas, where the industry long assumed it could sell plenty of cigarettes in countries with rising economies and leisure time.
Well, globalization has its hazards. Other countries are starting to fuss about smoking.
Two former Soviet republics recently sued the U.S. tobacco industry for the cost of smoking-related illnesses. The case was filed in Florida Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County, the same court that produced the record $145-billion award for Florida smokers.
In Spain, cancer patients seeking funding for rehabilitation centers last month filed the first two of a series of 14 planned class-action suits against tobacco companies that include Philip Morris and RJR.
And in Switzerland, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies were criticized for undermining Swiss health measures such as establishing smoke-free areas in restaurants and offices and enacting cigarette advertising bans.
How is the tobacco industry dealing with all these assaults?
Quite nimbly, it seems. Friendlier faces in the White House and Wall Street have energized an industry once under far more considerable fire.
A new book on tobacco suggests the industry is winning the latest battles.
"Rather than representing an end to the cigarette business, the recent legal wranglings, settlements, and jury verdicts signal a new and even promising era for cigarettes and the industry that creates them," writes Wall Street Journal reporter Tara Parker-Pope, author of Cigarettes: Anatomy of an Industry, From Seed to Smoke.
"For years, health crusaders focused much of their energy on uncovering wrongdoing by the industry," she writes. "Now that they've succeeded, the (multi-state) settlement with tobacco has taken much of the steam out of the anti-tobacco movement."
Smoking kills about 430,000 Americans a year. It is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
About 3,000 young people start smoking regularly in this country each day, and about one-third of them eventually will die prematurely from tobacco-related disease, government health and anti-smoking groups say.
That's a lot of carnage. The tobacco wars are not going away any time soon.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, tobacco industry documents.