December 15, 2005

$10 billion class-action lawsuit thrown out of court.

"Light" cigarettes not a fraud.
A divided [Illinois] Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Trade Commission specifically allowed companies to characterize their cigarettes as ''light'' and ''low tar,'' so Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris unit did not improperly mislead customers about the health impacts of its cigarettes.

''If the FTC has specifically authorized the use of the terms .... PM USA (Philip Morris) may not be held liable under the Consumer Fraud Act, even if the terms might be deemed false, deceptive or misleading,'' Justice Rita Garman wrote for the majority....

Smokers who wanted lighter flavor and less tar and nicotine could get that through its light brand, prominent attorney and former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson argued for Philip Morris. It wasn't the company's fault if a smoker negated any health benefits by taking deeper puffs or smoking more cigarettes, the company contended.

24 comments:

jeff said...

Anyone who started smoking, oh, past 1970 or so is entirely responsible for their own actions.

And their health insurance premiums should be adjusted appropriately.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Good for the IL Supreme Court. Common sense saves the day.

Is it any surprise this came out of Madison County, "the lawsuit capital of the world"? This one Illinois circuit has seen a 3800% increase in class action lawsuit filings.

75% of judges' campaign contributions come from plaintiff's attorneys (and another 15% from non-trial attorneys). Many regularly argue cases before the judges whose campaigns they've supported. Sounds like a good argument for appointed judges and tort reform.

JLP said...

I agree with Jeff. Finally, the courts seem to do something right. The big question is when and if these lawsuits will end. My guess is never.

JLP

AllThingsFinancial

Dave said...

The Surgeon General made the link between smoking and cancer in the late 50s. Which was what prompted my grandfather to stop smoking.

So, I would amend Jeff's statement: anyone who started smoking in the past 50 years is responsible for his own actions.

Unfortunately, we have a system of law in this country that does not seem to recognize that people should be responsible for the decisions they make.

Simon said...

Just to be clear, the disparate "health impact" of various kinds of cigarettes:

Regular cigarettes - early death through lung cancer and emphysema
Light tar cigarettes - early death through lung cancer and emphysema
Low tar cigarettes - early death through lung cancer and emphysema

I agree with all the previous commenters. That this absurd suit even made it into court is an argument against elected judges.

37921 said...

Do any of you have children? What if you found out your 12 year old daughter had a pack-a-day habit, would you say she was entirely responsible for her own actions?

bill said...

37921, if a 12-year-old had a pack a day habit, I'd say that's an argument for new parents, not a lawsuit against tobacco.


Tangentially speaking,

very funny book by Christopher Buckley: Thank You For Smoking. About a tobacco lobbyist.

It's also been made into a movie and release is currently listed as March 17, 2006.

Keith said...

I'd say, 'hey Mr/Mrs 37921, what kind of parent are you that your 12-year old child could develop a pack-a-day habit without your knowledge?' Really, that's some shoddy parenting.

Of course you have to make exceptions when young children smoke. The chances are they don't have the brains to know what's good for them. That's why we like to keep a close eye on them until they're old enough to know the consequences of their own idiotic behaviour.

Me? I started smoking in the 90's at the age of 18, and I'm still smoking today. If I keep it up I'll most likely die young, and I don't expect a penny from anyone. There's nothing I hate more than people who refuse to take responsibility for their lives.

Except celery.

stoqboy said...

I started smoking in 4th grade, which would be about 1968 and I would have been about 9 or 10. I knew even then it was bad for me. I was able to get cigarettes because both my parents smoked. I would guess that a 12 year old with a pack a day habit gets most of her cigarettes from his/her parents (either directly or because they give their child money). Not entirely responsible, but the parents are.

37921 said...

Of course, I didn't say it's the tobacco company's fault if a 12-year-old smokes cigarettes, I just wanted to address these blustering, moralistic statements to the effect that "anyone who started smoking after 1970 -- no, 1950! -- is entirely responsible for their own actions".

On the other hand, if the child were addicted to some illicit drug, I imagine that many of you would agree that the supply chain bore some of the responsibility.

DEC said...

Dave, the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health was issued in 1964. You can look it up on the Web. I remember. I wrote a newspaper story about it at the time.

SteveR said...

Merle Travis in 1947..

Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette
Puff, puff, puff until you smoke yourself to death.

Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate
That you hate to make him wait,
But you just gotta have another cigarette.

Steve said...

What if you found out your 12 year old daughter had a pack-a-day habit, would you say she was entirely responsible for her own actions?

No, I'd say it was my responsibly as a parent for not watching my children better.

Walter said...

The first medical journal to link smoking to health problems was published around 1928-1929.

IIRC, by the late 30's, a good % of the public knew that smoking had health problem and by the mid 50's, 80%+ knew about the health problems.

Vizsla1086 said...

It's hard to believe any of you posting are parents. Children do stuff, not all of which is good for them, and not all of which is visible to the parents.

Worse, good children have been known to disregard parental instructions at time.

What differentiates addiction from other sorts of behavior is that it's often overwhelming and not completely within the control of the addict. That doesn't mean addicts aren't accountable for what they do, but it does mean that it's not always possible to lift oneself up by one's bootstraps.

We put pushers in jail precisely because the law recognizes that addiction is dangerous. Companies that sell addictive products and *market* them knowing they're addictive would seem, at least IMHO, to be at least partially responsible for the destruction their products cause.

Bruce Hayden said...

If the parents don't smoke, a smoking kid is going to be obvious. They should be well able to smell it on the kid, esp. at a pack a day habit.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Nobody is forced to smoke, and cigarette manufacturers are not Mainway Products.

It's glaringly obvious that smoking is bad for you - you're inahling smoke. Kids get that message drummed into their heads in grade school. Yet people continue to eat, drink, and do all kinds of things that are bad for them.

And as the article points out: "The smokers did not accuse the company of harming their health." The suit was about how cigarettes were marketed - which, as it happens, was according to FTC guidelines.

Of course companies can engage in misleading and deceptive practices. But this is a legal product sold according to government-drafted rules. What the company supposed to do? These get-rich-quick lawsuits help nobody but lawyers. When the costs of doing business become prohibitively high, captial and jobs will go elsewhere. Our national victim mentality is slowly killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Pogo said...

Re: "Companies that sell addictive products and *market* them knowing they're addictive would seem, at least IMHO, to be at least partially responsible for the destruction their products cause."

Hogwash.
If cigarettes were in fact secretly addictive, maybe. But everyone does or should know that cigarettes are addictive. Kids that smoke do so in large part because their parents do as well. And where does a 12 year old get the cash to support a pack-a-day habit anyway?

All that said, the people that leap to the it's for the children defense of nannystatism or redistribution-by-lawsuit usually are after money or power or both.

chuck b. said...

"It wasn't the company's fault if a smoker negated any health benefits by taking deeper puffs or smoking more cigarettes."

Negating something that doesn't exist. If any government agency is going to "regulate" cigaret package labelling, it should be the FDA, not the FTC.

***

Altria is the only stock Ben Bernanke owns. (Or at least it was just prior to his confirmation as Fed Chief.)

knoxgirl said...

Bill!

I *loved* "Thank you for smoking" !

(can't wait to see the scene with the nicotine patches...)

Simon said...

"We put pushers in jail precisely because the law recognizes that addiction is dangerous. "

No, we put pushers in jail because selling drugs is against the law.

Simon said...

"It's hard to believe any of you posting are parents. Children do stuff, not all of which is good for them, and not all of which is visible to the parents."

I have a twelve year old son. Listening to NPR on the way home tonight, this story came on. We sometimes talk about the news when something stupid comes on, and sure enough, he pipes up that this is stupid; didn't these people go to elementary school? See, my middle schooler gets that smoking kills and arguing about low tar vs regular tar is like shooting yourself in the neck and then complaining that you thought armor piercing ammo would hurt less than hollow points. So I offer my congratulations to every plaintiff in this case. You don't get something that my middleschooler does. Congratulations, you're legally retarded.

Bladedoc said...

Forget the smell of smoke, the inability to hide smokers breath, the stained fingers, the wrapper pieces. Where does your 12 year old get 4 bucks a day (>$120/month) without you knowing about it? That's a ridiculous comment and yet another person trying to make government assume all responsibiltiy for child raising and "enforcing" common sense.

Keith said...

You want to know the real crime here? You guys can get a pack of cigarettes for $4. Over here in the UK a pack of 20 costs the equivalent of $8.85. My anti-social, debilitating and ultimately fatal habit costs twice as much. Ain't that a swift kick in the balls?