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Tobacco Companies Snuffed Out
We used to watch the dark silhouette of the Marlboro Cowboy riding off into the setting sun. In this day and age, the Marlboro Cowboy turns to his partner and says, ?Bob I?ve got emphysema.? Within the last decade, smoking advertisements have been completely overshadowed by radical anti-tobacco advertisements. Smoking no longer brings to mind images of beautiful blonde women daintily holding cigarettes between their fingers. In place of this image, commercials display the realistic gory effects of cigarettes such as a woman with a hole in her throat and a man with his mouth completely deteriorated by smoking-caused cancer. Along with the media, the American public has changed their attitudes toward the tobacco industry. Recently, a jury of six men and women in Florida awarded $145 billion in punitive damages in a class-action lawsuit brought on by over 500,000 Florida residents. This is an unfathomably large amount of money. In fact, it is almost three times the national budget of South Korea. After learning of this outrageous verdict, I immediately questioned whether or not the tobacco industry should even be held responsible for the damaging effects and deaths caused by those who chose to smoke cigarettes.
There is no denying the fact that tobacco companies have at times, been dishonest and deceitful. In 1994 there was a ?parade of tobacco bosses denying under oath that nicotine can be addictive and harmful?when their own products have been carrying labels warning about their harmfulness and addictiveness.? (Jonas 2). However, the question remains. Does this prove them responsible for the approximate 430,000 smokers that die each year? It definitely does not. Their innocence was matched by the innocence of the litigants who ?swore they never heard about health warnings, never spoke to their own doctors, and relied solely on the industry representations about the risks of smoking ?(Jonas 2). The litigants must have failed to notice the ?Congressionally mandated? warning label attached to each cigarette box they have purchased for the last thirty years.
George Jonas from the National Post argues that there are individuals who could have been unaware and uneducated of the risks of smoking. He says, ?I wouldn?t dream of suggesting that there isn?t anyone who could justifiably sue tobacco companies for failing to make him or her aware of the hazards of smoking. There are such beings. They include ET and other visitors from outer space, to say nothing of such figures as Sleeping Beauty or Rip van Winkle? (1). In other words, people who chose to smoke within the last 30 years knew full well that there were jeopardizing their health.
Nevertheless, the jurors in Florida who handed out the biggest verdict in United States history did not believe that choosing to smoke was at all relative to the case. Juror foreman, Leighton Finegan, said, ?This case was not about choosing to smoke. It?s about if you know you?re making a defective product, and these companies knew that? (Driscoll 1). The jurors of this case firmly believe they are sending out a message ? for all companies in America that they can?t fraudulently represent anything to the public? (Driscoll 1). Unfortunately that is not the message their final decision sends to the American public. The jury is communicating to every smoker in America that it is not their fault they began smoking and that the blame lies with the tobacco companies such as Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson, R. J. Reynolds and Lorillard and Liggett Group.
The size of the verdict the jury decided upon could directly affect cases involving smokers in the future. Millions of sick Americans could line up and file claims against tobacco companies. Also, ??lawyers in other states hope to win similar suits, creating legal chaos??(Slaying the Puffing Dragon). Every smoker in America now has the opportunity to sue the companies who make the product they choose to use. Of course, the $145 billion awarded to Florida smokers will cause the jurors of cases involving smoking will be extremely generous with payouts.
The controversial issue of the smokers vs. the tobacco industry has quickly become a national problem in need of a unified solution. What is that solution? Let?s encourage people who are smoking to quit and people who do not smoke never to start. Surprisingly enough, tobacco company Philip Morris USA has dramatically changed the way they do business as a result of state settlements. William Ohlemeyer, vice president and associate general counsel of Philip Morris describes the steps the company has taken toward a unified solution.
?We have eliminated or severly restricted many of our traditional marketing practices. We have restricted our lobbying practices. We have opened up millions of documents to public disclosure. In addition, we have voluntarily implemented youth-smoking-prevention initiatives. And recently we took the voluntary step of removing our tobacco-brand advertising form nearly 50 national publications?(Ohlemeyer 16A).
Once again I pose the question, is the tobacco industry responsible for the damaging effects and deaths caused by cigarettes? No. It is ridiculous to blame the tobacco companies instead of holding Americans responsible for their actions. I agree entirely with George Jonas when he says, ? Even in an era such as ours, in which we?ve been trying to redistribute risks in society not according to who incurs them but who can best afford to pay, such an attempt to shift responsibility for our own actions to the ?deep pockets? of someone else has reached a new height of absurdity?(1).
Driscoll, Amy. ?Jurors Call $145 Billion Tobacco Verdict a ?Message?? Miami Herald 16 July 2000
Jonas, George. ?Just what were they smoking?? National Post 17 July 2000
Ohlemeyer, William. ?Florida verdict is ?outrageous??. USA TODAY 17 July 2000: A16
?Slaying the Puffing Dragon? Monitor 17 July 2000
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