Tobacklash!

By Elizabeth M. Whelan


Salon Staff
June 18, 2001 11:30PM (UTC)

Read the story.

As an ex-three-pack-a-day smoker for nine years, I could not disagree with this column more. Any rational person, even in 1964, knew that smoking was bad for one's health. How? "Smoker's cough." When I started smoking, in 1972, I was clearly aware of the health risks. The fact that I chose to ignore them was my responsibility, not the tobacco companies'. Many products have significant health risks -- candy, meat, alcohol, prescription drugs, guns, knives, cars, etc. Under this "blame the maker" rationale, there is no health problem that cannot be blamed on someone else. It's about time people took responsibility for their own problems, realized that they eventually will die, and quit wasting all this time and energy blaming someone else. $3 billion will not bring this smoker's health back, nor make him happier. It will just raise tobacco prices for folks who already can't afford it. And it's not as if his health plan is refusing to cover him because of his habit, as insurers routinely do for natural disasters such as flooding, when living in a flood-prone area.

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-- Al McClain

The habitual use of tobacco in any form was labeled a filthy, disgusting habit for centuries before warning labels on cigarette packs were mandated in 1965. That snuff caused cancerous lesions in the sinuses was known as far back as the 1700s. That smoking affected stamina was well known by the 19th century in sporting circles. In fact, in the 1890s there was a strong anti-smoking movement that the tobacco industry overcame only with great effort.

Whelan would have us believe that smokers are confused by our culture's fixation on risk, which makes it difficult to distinguish between real and hypothetical danger. While it's true that we are constantly bombarded with hysterical and even contradictory messages about things that are bad for us, there is no way that a smoker can claim not to notice the effects smoking has on his or her health.

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The big scare about smoking is cancer. But years before we get to that stage, smoking gives us plenty of notice that it's not good for us. We hack up balls of brownish phlegm, we suffer from chronic bronchitis, we wheeze, we gasp, we endure coughing fits, headaches and heartburn.

And all the time we know damn well it's from smoking. We're not confused, we are simply in denial. Any honest ex- or current smoker will admit to this.

And while I have no sympathy for the tobacco industry, it is not to blame for the denial of its customers. We could just as easily, and more logically, blame the U.S. government. After all, the government allows the sale of tobacco, and further, the government has even promoted the use of tobacco (specifically but not exclusively in the armed forces).

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-- Walt Roberts

I am sorry that Mr. Boeken is dying as a result of a lifetime of smoking. But given the fact that he smoked two packs a day for the amount of time he did, he should feel lucky he is still around at 58 years.

If someone habitually smokes two packs a day, that person is an idiot, plain and simple. They made the decision to throw away their health, and since they obviously don't value their own life, they shouldn't be entitled to a cent from the tobacco companies once that life is threatened as a result of their own actions.

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-- Chris Meyer

Elizabeth Whalen misses the point. The $3 billion verdict against Philip Morris is wrong because it is legally unsupportable.

The law requires that in order to sustain a cause of action for fraud, a plaintiff must prove not only that the defendant made misstatements, but also that (1) the misstatements were material and (2) the plaintiff relied on the misstatement(s) in taking action or not taking action. In the context of a smoker's case, the smoker would have to produce not only the documents that have been made available to plaintiffs' lawyers in complete disregard of attorney-client privilege rules that apply to every other industry, but also would have to identify the misstatements that he relied on in deciding to smoke or to continue smoking. In other words, it's not enough to produce internal memos, or statements made in 1954, if the plaintiff never saw them. No such evidence was required in this case, and the verdict will have to be thrown out by any court that decides to properly apply the law.

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In addition, U.S. Supreme Court authority requires that punitive damages bear some rational relationship to compensatory damages. No effort was made in this case to make that connection.

The anti-smoking advocates don't like it, but under the representative system of government that we are supposed to have in this country, decisions about tobacco policy are not made by 12 unelected members of the public and a single judge with a political agenda. They are made by our elected representatives in Congress. For instance, Dr. Whelan fails to mention that Congress drafted the warnings that go on the cigarette packs, and the companies cannot legally add to or subtract from those warnings. This federal law preempts state law, and that is yet another reason why this verdict, and the Engle verdict, cannot stand.

-- Eileen Kennedy

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I have smoked on and off since I was 15. At every step, I have known that I am an idiot. However, I consider smoking one of life's greater pleasures. Anyone who smokes knows they are an idiot, and the consequences of their actions are theirs and theirs alone. That tobacco companies are sued for providing a service for those of us who are weak, or who simply enjoy the after-dinner cigarette, is ridiculous. The prevailing opinion in America today that casts smokers as bad people sickens me. I work and try to contribute to society. We all make choices, for better or for worse and live with them. I am sick of crybabies suing for big money to make up for poor decisions made in their past. Juries who cater to these people are only perpetuating the current "no fault, no responsibility" disease infecting the United States today.

-- Austin Smith

What about the 300,000 U.S. citizens that die each year from their unhealthy eating habits? These people cost our economy billions in healthcare and lost time from work (just as they say smokers do). There are no health warnings on McDonald's burgers and fries. They target our children with their toys and playgrounds on-site. They run ads during peak times kids watch TV and during the shows they watch. Many middle schools and high schools serve their food and other unhealthy foods in their cafeterias. By the time they are grown they have developed a habit of eating mostly unhealthy, fatty foods.

Don't you think it is time for these industries to start paying up? They can raise their prices to pay for huge settlements. This way the states can be repaid what they spent on obese people and others who get heart disease and other diseases from high-fat foods.

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-- Daniel Redford

I started smoking when I was 14 (1980). Why? Because it gave me a buzz. Who influenced me? The friend who told me that it would give me a buzz. I never paid attention to tobacco ads and I didn't know who the Marlboro Man was. For the next 15 years, I used tobacco in all its forms (cigarettes, snuff, cigars, pipes), but mostly I smoked cigarettes, close to two packs a day at the end. I was addicted and I feared trying to quit because of everything that I had read about it, how hard it is, how addictive tobacco is, etc.

Then, one day I decided to quit, and I did. It wasn't easy, but I can best describe it as an inconvenience, not a trial. Quitting smoking was a pain in the ass, but so is giving up soft drinks. It wasn't that hard to do, all it really took was wanting (and I mean really wanting) to do it. I didn't use patches or gum or hypnotism or therapy. I just did it. I even did this while married to a smoker who continued to smoke. Most people will tell you this is impossible, but I am proof that it can be done and it isn't that hard to do. Last year, my wife did the same thing. How? She wanted to and she did it. And guess what. She, too, realized that it wasn't that hard to do.

The big lie is that tobacco is so addictive that it can control your life and make it nearly impossible to quit, thus big tobacco is to blame for people's health problems. People don't quit smoking because they don't really want to quit smoking. Anti-tobacco supports this attitude of addiction because it helps them paint big tobacco into the drug-pusher picture. Yet this only serves to hurt smokers. The war on drugs has been shown not to work, yet anti-tobacco is using the same tactics.

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If you really want to do something to change things, stop attacking big tobacco and start showing people how to quit smoking. It's far easier than you think.

-- Jeff Crook


Salon Staff

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