The Tobacco Industry: Liable for it’s Consumers

Should the tobacco industry be held liable for illness and death caused by smoking? Currently, the Federal government is looking into this in numerous court cases, scientific studies, and a never-ending battle between national health, and the big tobacco giants. But to make an educated opinion, both sides of the argument must be heard. We hear about it all the time: Smoking causes this and smoking causes that. Not a day goes by that the media frenzy doesn’t find something bad about smoking.

Another reason why smoking will shorten your life span, increase stress, and kill you 5 minutes faster. The truth in the matter is that smoking is just generally bad for your health. There’s no way in denying it, the Federal Drug Administration has hundreds of studies on the effects of smoking; “nicotine in cigarettes… is a drug”, “cigarettes… lead to addiction”, etc. But why, then, all the fuss about lawsuits? Actually, why would cigarettes still be legal? A bit odd they still exist, and generate so much money, don’t you think?

A while ago, in the 1950’s, the FDA passes a regulation that forced cigarette companies to place warning labels on the side of their products, informing consumers of the dangers of the consumption of their product. Well, if people know about the effects, wouldn’t a case be deemed frivolous in court? How is their case heard? There are two reasons for this: states are suing in place of citizens, and the tobacco companies allegedly lied about the effects of smoking. Currently, there is a huge, multi-plaintiff, multi-state suit against a large consortium of tobacco companies.

Companies such as R. J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, Ligget & Meyers, and Phillip Morris Inc. are all under fire by over 39 states. Florida leads the group, asking for reimbursement for the money spent through Medicaid, the Federal Insurance program, for the treatment of illnesses, diseases, and deaths related to tobacco use. Each state is suing in place of all the recipients of Medicaid, who remain anonymous. This is because of something called subrogation, where the insurance company has the right to sue in place of their client, with the insurance company accepting all risks and costs involved. Also all the profits.

The states had a rock hard case, and the tobacco industry folded. They opted to settle. The New York Times calculates the cost of the settlement to be $378. 5 billion. The actual people who suffer from cigarette use receive not a cent, but they do have lower premiums. Why settle when you lose over 350 billion dollars? Must have been a pretty rock hard case, huh? It has been shown, in a 1995 investigation of the effects of nicotine in cigarettes, that the “tobacco manufacturers ‘intend’ that their products have addictive… effects”. Seems that the tobacco companies deliberately addicted people to cigarettes to ensure high sales figures.

That may be true, but tobacco companies claim “assumption of risk” in defense against all claims. “Assumption of risk” means, in a nutshell, that if you knowingly participated in something, and were fully aware of or had full access to a list of the consequences of your actions, the owner or producer of that something is not liable for what happens to you. Since there were warning labels on cigarette packs, and FDA investigations are publicly available, why should the tobacco companies be held responsible for something you did, knowing that it causes cancer, etc?

This defense has withstood scrutiny for decades, and no one could pinch a penny from the large tobacco corporations because of it. Tobacco brands though, like Marlboro, glamorized smoking, some say. The Marlboro man, and Joe Camel, are almost cultural icons. Movies show smoking as something ‘cool’. Surely this warps young children’s minds, and causes them to partake in something addictive. The ultimate marketing scheme, right? Wrong. Most everyone says Joe Camel made children want to smoke, but the reality is totally different. Advertisements effect choice of brand name, not the initial decision to smoke, studies show.

Banning advertisements would actually increase the number of smokers, an international poll showed. So the tobacco companies aren’t liable then, right? Here’s where a mockery of due process comes in, as the tobacco companies’ many, overpriced lawyers like to say. A law called the Florida Medicaid Third-Party Liability Act(in Florida’s case, most other states copied Florida’s actions) totally blows the “assumption of risk” defense out of the water. It states that the cigarette companies fraudulently misrepresented the risks involved with smoking, concealed from consumers the addictive nature of their products, and targeted young individuals.

That being said, how could the consumer make an informed judgement about the nature of smoking? Hence the “assumption of risk” does not apply to something you know nothing about. Now the tobacco companies have nothing to pull themselves out of the water with. But even if they did, the entire mindset that created the Florida Medicaid Third-Party Act would not have it stand for long in court. The Florida Supreme Court allowed this outlandishly unconstitutional act to pass, and the Federal Supreme Court will not challenge it. It “meets the rationale of the times”. Sure, it may be good for society, but isn’t the legality of it an issue?

It seems not, to the hundreds of millions of tobacco sufferers across the globe. Not to mention it won’t tear apart the deep pockets of Big Tobacco, which is what the state governments are really after. Many fight the argument from a morals and ethics standpoint. They’re selling poison to our children, they say. This seems to be the strongest view, as many would not even bother with the laws and court proceedings or history of the topic. This seems to be the one the masses follow. So should the tobacco industry be held liable for illness and death caused by smoking? Morally, yes. Legally, that’s a tough one.

But I’ll stick to the good ol’ politicians, who’ll pass any law or bill, no matter how outrageous, to fill their pockets and remain in office for another term. I mean, come on, the state is the court and the plaintiff, and they just so happen to pass an act that pretty much forces them to win their case 20 minutes before they file their suit. How obvious to everyone the abuse of power shown. Let’s hope our government acts this erratically on something everyone can agree on though next time. Perhaps demonopolizing other industries. With Big Tobacco going down fast, the future seems to be looking up… I need a cigarette, how about you?

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