The family of baseball star Tony Gwynn is blaming the tobacco industry for the death of the Hall of Famer, who succumbed to salivary gland cancer in 2014, and filed a lawsuit Monday in San Diego Superior Court, the Washington Post reports.
The wrongful death suit names several defendants, including Altria Group Corp., the parent company of Philip Morris, and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. LLC. The family notes that Gwynn began using smokeless tobacco as a freshman at San Diego State in 1977. Over the next three decades, he easily went through one-and-a-half to two cans of the tobacco per day.
“Once Defendants got Tony addicted to their products, he became a self-described ‘tobacco junkie,’” the suit claims. The suit—filed by Gwynn’s widow, Alicia, and the couple’s two children, Anisha Gwynn-Jones and Tony Gwynn Jr.—claims that Gwynn began using smokeless tobacco when the industry was aware of the cancer risks but did not use warning labels. His family wants a jury trial and unspecified damages.
“Now that the family understands how he was targeted, they understand that the industry knew they had this highly carcinogenic product and they were marketing it to people like Tony,” David S. Casey, the family’s lead lawyer, told the New York Times. “They want to hold them accountable and let a jury make a decision as to what is proper in this case.”
The suit claims that during the late 1970s, the smokeless tobacco industry started directing its marketing toward African Americans, college students and athletes, making Gwynn the perfect candidate.
“The tobacco companies were using his addiction to turn him into their ultimate walking billboard,” Gwynn Jr. told the Times. “He never knew it, but they were using him to promote their dip to the next generation of kids and fans who idolized him.”