More Nigerians Sue U.S. Tobacco Companies for Billions

More states in Nigeria are suing American tobacco companies for billions of dollars. The suit began when one state in Nigeria decided to sue U.S. cigarette manufacturers for $20 billion, claiming they were responsible for Nigerian smokers’ sicknesses and health care costs.

Now other Nigerian states are seeking to get in on the action, much as states in the United States filed me-too lawsuits against the tobacco companies after Mississippi began suing the tobacco companies.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, with well over 100 million people. It is home to millions of smokers —  and to a lot of underemployed lawyers who lost income when Nigeria’s economy collapsed in the 1980s amidst falling oil prices. (In the United States, lawyers received $625 million for bringing New York State’s copycat lawsuit against the tobacco companies, even though they were hired only the tobacco companies had already agreed to pay off Mississippi and Florida. All told, trial lawyers received $14 billion from the tobacco companies under the 1998 tobacco Master Settlement Agreement).

Canadian provinces such as British Columbia are also suing U.S. tobacco companies, and Saudi Arabia has also threatened to do so.

As I have explained before, the 1998 tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), in which the big tobacco companies agreed to pay the states $250 billion over 25 years, has done much to encourage such lawsuits.

But the big tobacco companies won’t be able to pass along the costs of future tobacco settlements to consumers, as they did in the MSA, because smokers in poor countries like Nigeria aren’t rich enough to pay those costs. (Much of Nigeria lives on less than a dollar a day). Any such costs will come out of the tobacco companies’ own hides.