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Florida Nicotine Addiction Suit Settled

The cover story in the January, 1998, issue of PLN , "Smoking, Lies and Hypocrisy," by Paul Wright, mentioned the case of Thomas Waugh. Waugh, a Florida prisoner, had sued Florida prison officials for failing to provide him with any type of treatment to help him stop smoking. Waugh contended his nicotine addiction was so strong he was unable to quit smoking without help. The case was notable because the Florida attorney general's office responded by arguing that nicotine was not addictive and Waugh could quit smoking by not buying tobacco. At the same time, the Florida AG's office was suing the tobacco industry and arguing just the opposite: that nicotine was a drug so addictive and powerful that it extinguished user's ability to quit.

On May 8, 1998, the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) settled Waugh's suit after two days of trial. The settlement is significant for several reasons. Among them, the Florida DOC recognized nicotine addiction as a "serious medical condition" requiring treatment.

Under the terms of the settlement the DOC agreed to have Waugh examined by a pulmonologist and a neurologist and to prescribe Zyban tablets and nicotine patches as part of a smoking cessation therapy. Waugh would be assigned to a smoke free dormitory while undergoing treatment and would be allowed to continue his exercise regimen, vocational classes, law library access, etc. Waugh agreed not to sell or transfer any pharmaceutical product he was given to treat his nicotine addiction. Waugh was given a two month nicotine therapy treatment program, if he relapsed he could undergo it again.

The defendants agreed to pay Waugh's attorneys $65,000 in costs and expenses. The Jacksonville, Florida, law firm of Holland and Knight, which was appointed by the court to represent Waugh, agreed to waive its attorney fees of more than $250,000 in order to settle the suit. As a result of the suit the Florida DOC now provides, at DOC expense, a smoking cessation program for its prisoners that includes nicotine cessation aids such as Zyban and nicotine patches.

Despite the settlement in this case the Florida DOC continues to buy over $5 million worth of tobacco products each year which it sells to the prisoners in its custody at a profit of $2.6 million. According to a 1997 legislative report, 75% of Florida prisoners use tobacco products and at least $4 million a year is spent on health care costs treating tobacco related illnesses among Florida prisoners. Past legislative efforts to ban tobacco products in Florida prisons have failed.

Readers should note the settlement is unpublished. See: Waugh v. Singletary, US DC, MD FL (Jacksonville), Case No. 95-605-CIV-J-20A. For a detailed account of this litigation see the July-August, 1998, issue of Florida Prison Legal Perspectives . Address on the last page of each PLN

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Related legal case

Waugh v. Singletary