Sunday, August 20, 2006


Up in smoke

I've always been of a mixed mind about individual lawsuits against the tobacco companies. I think smoking is disgusting, and I think the tobacco companies are vile for promoting it, for lying about its dangers, and for trying to hide behind things like the Surgeon General's warning to shirk responsibility. At the same time, I can't accept statements that people didn't know it was bad for them. Come on, really: those of you who have smoked, or have tried to, tell me honestly, was that first cigarette a sublime pleasure? Or did you choke and cough and gag, and have to force yourself to continue? Your body was telling you that it was bad. And, be honest, you knew that.

But the legal actions that focus on the companies' policies and marketing, now those are a different story. I'd love to see them held accountable for promoting death as a national pastime ("Show us your Lark!"), as a great-tasting delight ("What do you want: good grammar, or good taste?"), as a means for women to demonstrate their liberation ("You've come a long way, baby!"). [My apologies for those too young to remember those TV ads; cigarette ads have been banned from American television since 1970, but they still advertise in magazines and on billboards.]

Last week's ruling doesn't make it. It tells them to stop. It tells them they better tell the truth in the future. It makes them stop marketing "lite" cigarettes that are purported to be "better for you". It even makes them take back everything they've said in the past and point out that these products greatly increase your chances of dying nastily. And those measures will cost them money to implement. But it does not directly exact a penalty; it doesn't make them pay for what they've done.

That this is a good thing for the tobacco companies is easily seen from how the stock market has responded to the news:

"From a business perspective, this is a complete win," said David Adelman, an analyst with Morgan Stanley. "They're not making any substantial payments. There's no threat of future substantial payments."
And on top of all that, of course, the companies may appeal even some of the mild requirements of the decision.

The most amazing thing to me is reading that the decision is over 1700 pages and took over a year to write!

Judge Kessler meant well, and chastised the companies severely. But she felt that, legally, she couldn't hurt them through their bank accounts. That's a pity.

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