The family of a baseball legend is suing 'Big Tobacco' over his death from cancer

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Family of Tony Gwynn suing tobacco industry

The family of Baseball Hall of Fame member Tony Gwynn filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against one of the world's largest tobacco corporations on Monday.

Gwynn died in 2014 at the age of 54 from salivary gland cancer, a disease he attributed to his 31-year habit of chewing smokeless tobacco.

The lawsuit accuses Altria Group Inc. — the multinational tobacco corporation formerly known as Phillip Morris — and several other defendants of manipulating Gwynn into using tobacco when he was a young college star at San Diego State University.

The suit says that the defendants regularly sent Gwynn free samples of smokeless tobacco and misled him about the health risks as part of an effort to market the product to African-Americans, according to The New York Times.

From 1977 to 2008, Gwynn chewed up to two cans of smokeless tobacco per day, using it immediately after waking up and sometimes falling asleep with it between his lip and right cheek, the suit says.

The suit seeks a jury trial and does not specify 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," said David S. Casey, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, the Times reported. "They want to hold them accountable and let a jury make a decision as to what is proper in this case."

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The family of a baseball legend is suing 'Big Tobacco' over his death from cancer
FILE - This Jan. 30, 2006, file photo shows Hall of Fame baseball player and head coach of San Diego State's baseball team, Tony Gwynn, talking about the upcoming season while watching a practice, in San Diego. Gwynn says he has cancer in a salivary gland. He told The San Diego Union-Tribune, in a story published Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, the cancer was discovered last month and he faces seven to eight weeks of treatment _ radiation five times a week and chemotherapy once a week.(AP Photo/Chris Park, File)
DENVER, : National League player Tony Gwynn hits a single for two runs during the third inning of the 1998 Major League All-Star game 07 July at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Jeff Haynes (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images)
BRONX, NY - OCTOBER 17: Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres bats during to Game One of the World Series against the New York Yankees on October 17, 1998 at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
Newly elected Baseball Hall of Fame baseball players Cal Ripken, left, and Tony Gwynn speak during a news conference in Baltimore, Friday, Jan. 26, 2007.(AP Photo/Chris Gardner)
Tony Gwynn smiles at Cal Ripken, Jr. during a press conference after their election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Cal Ripken, Jr., left, and Tony Gwynn pose for pictures during a press conference after their election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2007 file photo, former San Diego Padre Tony Gwynn talks about his election to the National Baseball Hall Of Fame, in San Diego. The Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday, June 16, 2014 said Gwynn has died of cancer. He was 54. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi, File)
Former San Diego Padre Tony Gwynn talks about what it would mean if he is elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame during an interview in San Diego Tuesday, December 26, 2006. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 24: Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn is introduced at Clark Sports Center during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 24, 2011 in Cooperstown, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 29: Newly inducted Hall of Famer, Tony Gwynn, delivers speech to audience during the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 29, 2007. (Photo by Paul Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 29: Newly inducted Hall of Famers, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. pose together with Hall of Fame plaques during the Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, New York on July 29, 2007. (Photo by Paul Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO - APRIL 10: Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres looks on against the San Francisco Giants on April 10, 2001 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Giants defeated the Padres 11-6. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres watches his two-run home run in the fifth inning against the New York Yankees 17 October in game one of the 1998 World Series at Yankee Stadium in New York. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
BRONX, NY - OCTOBER 17: Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres during Game One of the World Series against the New York Yankees on October 17, 1998 at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 29: Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres runs during Game One of the National League Division Series against the Houston Astros on September 29, 1998 at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, : Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres shatters his bat 07 June during the third inning of play in their game with the Texas Rangers at The Ballpark in Arlington, TX. Gwynn was out at first base on the play. AFP PHOTO/Paul K. BUCK (Photo credit should read PAUL BUCK/AFP/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 4: Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres during the game against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 4, 1998 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
Mets Vs Padres. Tony Gwynn winces as his broken toe bothers him. (Photo by Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO - 1987: Tony Gwynn #19 of the San Diego Padres poses for the camera. (Photo by Focus On Sport/Getty Images)
Mets vs. San Diego Padres Padres Tony Gwynn at bat.(Photo by Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY, 1985: Outfielder Tony Gwynn #19, of the San Diego Padres, fakes a drag bunt during a game in July, 1985 at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST, 1982: Rookie outfielder Tony Gwynn #19, of the San Diego Padres, warms up prior to a game in August, 1982 at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images)
UNDATED: Tony Gwynn #19 of the San Diego Padres swats at the ball. (Photo by Focus On Sport/Getty Images)
San Diego Padres' Tony Gwynn leaps in the air after sliding home safely to score the winning run in the 10th inning as Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez stands by in the MLB All-Star Game at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium July 12, 1994. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
San Diego Padres' Tony Gwynn speaks to a sold-out crowd during a ceremony before the game against the Florida Marlins on Friday, Aug. 13, 1999, in San Diego. The ceremony was held to give San Diego fans a chance to celebrate Gwynn's 3,000th career hit. (AP Photo/Kent C. Horner)
San Diego Padres’ Tony Gwynn warms up in the outfield prior to the game against the Chicago Cubs at night, Saturday, August 6, 1994 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Fred Jewell)
San Diego Padres Tony Gwynn slides safely home with the winning run past Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez in the 10th inning of the 65th All Star Game Tuesday, July 12, 1994 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburg, The National League won 8-7. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres leaps and New York Mets bullpenners Tom German and Danny Hoop (25) reach but no one can catch a home run by the New York Mets Keith Hernandez. The homer in the third inning Saturday night, Sept. 3, 1983 in New York drove in two runs to give the Mets the lead. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)
San Diego Padres' Tony Gwynn, the National League batting champion in 1984, does a twist to make a back hand catch at the teams' spring training camp in Yuma, Arizona Tuesday, March 6, 1985. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
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One of the plaintiffs, Tony Gwynn Jr., said his father never smoked or drank, and that he didn't know the dangers of chewing smokeless tobacco when he first started using the product.

"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."

Deadspin points out that the suit is strategically timed, as New York and Chicago recently joined the list of Major League Baseball cities to ban tobacco in stadiums.

Gwynn, a 15-time All-Star, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. He spent his entire 20-season career with the San Diego Padres.

The Gwynn family will address the media in San Diego on Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET, according to USA Today.

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