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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Widow of chain smoker awarded 23 billion in suit against RJ Reynolds (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Widow of chain smoker awarded 23 billion in suit against RJ Reynolds
Derrell
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Reuters. I wonder if the award will stand. If it stands, what kind of precedent does this set?
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BlackBlade
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I don't think it will stand, but I am partial to the idea that the reason we haven't seen billion dollar judgements is because nobody has been willing to grant one. I don't think there's any debate that deception on the part of tobacco companies has preserved billions of dollars in profits they wouldn't otherwise have.
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Geraine
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While I don't think the ruling will stand, I think it was an utter ridiculous ruling to begin with.

Nobody made her husband chain smoke. He chose to. There are numerous ways to stop, including a ton of free cessation programs.

If someone wants to smoke, they should be responsible for the consequences.

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scifibum
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I'm skeptical that anyone was fooled by cigarette companies' deceptiveness regarding the health effects of their products after the government started publicizing the problem heavily in the 60s and 70s.

HOWEVER, there is no question that the cigarette companies DID try to conceal or minimize the harms.

I think the cigarette companies deserve to pay penalties. I am not sure that any given victim deserves a large monetary award.

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theamazeeaz
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I'm not familiar with this case at all but I did read the article:

What made this particular plaintiff stand out from the millions killed by tobacco use and lung cancer (aside from dying at 36, which is really young, though he smoked for 23 years)?

Also, what particular negligence was there? I got the impression he started smoking after the point at which everyone knew it was bad. For example, in the McDonald's hot coffee case, the company had received many many reports of burns from customers before the lawsuit, and had been serving the coffee hotter than food service regulations recommended.

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Samprimary
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
I'm skeptical that anyone was fooled by cigarette companies' deceptiveness regarding the health effects of their products after the government started publicizing the problem heavily in the 60s and 70s.

Rest assured: people were fooled.

Lots of people.

People are, as a general rule, easily fooled.

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Jake
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Especially if they're being told something they want to believe.
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scifibum
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I've never known a smoker who claimed it wasn't bad for them, but on reflection I'm going to have to admit it seems likely that people were fooled - after all, I know some people who think essential oils mostly obviate modern medicine, and there's the whole vaccines thing, etc.
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Samprimary
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Today's a bit of a different story (though you'll still find plenty of people who say it "doesn't hurt me" or that the "weight loss benefits" outweigh the harm to your lungs, healthwise) — to an age before Jeffrey Wigand, before the Waxman Hearings. The lies were endemic and well-paid for.
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Rakeesh
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It's not merely a question of being fooled, either. It's also a question of being fooled when still a child, and then wham you've got a nice nicotine addiction. I hear tell those are pretty damn rough.

As for the settlement, I admit it does sound absurd. On the other hand, big tobacco sits on a foundation built on lies that killed millions directly for profit, and you know what? Not only is it still an enormous business, but every effort to wring a healthy or even a less dishonest and toxic business practice out of them has had to be done kicking and screaming.

Since we're apparently unwilling as a nation to break 'em for this legacy-a foundation of deliberate lies, more deaths than the Holocaust and perhaps Stalin put together over the years-these companies still get to be big bucks and still get to be powerbrokers politically, you know what, I'm not sure some damages running wild is more absurd than that.

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Samprimary
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Yeah, it's like .. when the mcdonalds coffee burn lady got her settlement, everyone talked about how absurd the settlement cost was. But it was purposefully set at literally McDonald's profit for all of one day for their coffee sales alone.
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Rakeesh
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Yeah, that coffee story is an anecdote that is often used with so little connection to the actual events of that case.
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Samprimary
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moreover, when a company can become so large that it can only worry about absolutely trivial maximal payouts for their own negligence and decry that .2% of a day's worth of profits as 'unreasonable' then WELP
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Wingracer
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23 billion is a bit more than .2% of a days profit.
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scifibum
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23 billion is not going to stand, of course, because it violates even the loosest guidelines for punitive damages. It'll probably eventually come in 2-3 orders of magnitude lower.
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Wingracer
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Agreed but it sounded like some posters felt 23 billion was small potatoes to a company as big as RJR. In actual fact, that's about 20 YEARS worth of profits. I'm sure that wasn't their intent and I'm just reading things into it but I wanted to point that out.

Gives a true meaning to the phrase "I'll sue and own this company."

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Samprimary
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you could do worse than to sue RJR out of existence.
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Rakeesh
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I would shed few tears if someone who started smoking while they were a child and later died of lung cancer, f their family owned the company.
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Wingracer
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All this talk of RJR and the recent passing of James Garner reminds me of the movie Barbarians at the Gate. I'm going to have to find a stream and watch it. It's been years but I remember liking it.
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Herblay
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This is stupid. There are risks associated with everything. Should we sue auto manufacturers for accidents? Should we sue McDonalds for obesity? Should we sue Cabellas for accidental deaths due to guns?

Whether they knew smoking had risks or not, it's the smoker's fault. Even if the smoker worked for RJR, got free cigarettes, got PAID to smoke them. The company should still not be liable.

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Kwea
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Bullshit.

For DECADES RJR sold a product they KNEW was killing people, and they deliberately hid results that proved that. They actively suppressed research that proved it was a huge risk, funded studied they KNEW were false to confuse the issue, and deliberately increased or added substances they KNEW were both addictive and deadly.

I don't think that the amount will stand, but it isn't stupid. They aren't being sued for selling tobacco. They are on trial for lying, illegally hiding facts, lying to the public and the courts repeatedly over the course of DECADES, and selling a product they knew was unsafe without warning their consumers.

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Herblay
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No. They are being assigned punitive damages due to a single case.

If the feds want to bring a case against big tobacco, they should do it. But they shouldn't continually dance around the issue every few years, tacking punitive damages onto cases where litigious fools get rich and benefit. There are thousands of other victims that get nothing. Why should a handful of sue-happy people get rewarded for relative's bad decisions?

I'm all for making a case against big tobacco. Roll out the evidence and put it through trial. Then put it behind us. The excuse that people didn't know smoking could be unhealthy is a weak one -- and we can't lean against it forever. Unless I can blame all of my problems on the fact that I'm native American, and white people treated my ancestors poorly.

Stupid.

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scifibum
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Do you have a problem with punitive damages in general, then?

quote:
I'm all for making a case against big tobacco. Roll out the evidence and put it through trial. Then put it behind us.
Are you saying that we should only pursue criminal charges, if any can be brought? And that civil liability is itself a stupid way to remedy the damage they did? I'm just not sure how you envision this should work.
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MattP
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quote:
Why should a handful of sue-happy people get rewarded for relative's bad decisions?
Because with punitive damages that reward is incidental. The point is to punish the offender and it's just by convention that the damages go to the plaintiff in most cases.
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Herblay
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If we feel that RJR did something wrong, then yes, a criminal action is the right way to go.

If we can't pursue criminal charges, why should there be civil liability? It only served to allow judges to make a statement. From an economics perspective, they're making our market much more inefficient.

And from the perspective of the victims, it would be much better if everyone was given a cut. Why should this idiot get rewarded?

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scifibum
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So in your view we should do away with tort law entirely. That is a refreshingly bold proposal.
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Geraine
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quote:
Originally posted by Herblay:
If we feel that RJR did something wrong, then yes, a criminal action is the right way to go.

If we can't pursue criminal charges, why should there be civil liability? It only served to allow judges to make a statement. From an economics perspective, they're making our market much more inefficient.

And from the perspective of the victims, it would be much better if everyone was given a cut. Why should this idiot get rewarded?

Oh but Herblay, we can't rely on free market principles. We NEED the government to tell us what is healthy and what isn't, and we need judges to make political statements from the bench. I mean, there have been warning labels on packages of cigarettes since the U.S. Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act passed in 1965 but hey, it's still the tobacco company's fault!

We obviously also need to blame the public education system and it's general lack of funding, because maybe those people couldn't READ the warnings due to subpar education in the inner city neighborhoods they were living in. It must be lack of money.

And parents can't be expected to teach their children the dangers of smoking, because they are too busy working out of the home for greedy old white men that want to pay them subpar wages to make huge profits.

My solution? Nationalized Marijuana Dispensaries. You want congress to get along? Have everyone light up before entering the chambers each morning. Trust me.

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Kwea
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Just when I thought the thread couldn't make any less sense....
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BlackBlade
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Herblay: Punitive damages are supposed to punish a company in a meaningful way that it will deter that sort of behavior in the future. Is it where the funds go that bother you or the fact punitive damages happen at all?
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Rakeesh
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quote:
Originally posted by Herblay:
If we feel that RJR did something wrong, then yes, a criminal action is the right way to go.

If we can't pursue criminal charges, why should there be civil liability? It only served to allow judges to make a statement. From an economics perspective, they're making our market much more inefficient.

And from the perspective of the victims, it would be much better if everyone was given a cut. Why should this idiot get rewarded?

I'm wondering if such an abrasive, insulting style is simply because you're angry or it's just a rhetorical tactic.

You and Geraine, in your defense of big crappy businesses because people are stupid, seem to have skipped over the childhood addiction angle. And then there's the problem that apparently strict personal responsibility is the lot of 'idiots' who die of lung cancer. Breaking a company that sells poison for profit that kills people and is built on lies? Whoa, whoa, legs not get carried away! What about personal responsibility? They should keep their money.

Another problem, especially for you, Herblay:every argument except the one about more people not being compensated would apply with just as much potency against major class action lawsuits or widespread governmental punishment. So I can't help but be a little skeptical at the idea you would support such a thing, especially since the broader set of victims would also all be idiots too, right?

Though i notice on reread, you only said you wouldn't mind seeing a broader case brought, and left off the part
About what verdict you would prefer.

The more I examine it, the uglier it gets actually. Punitive damages shouldn't exist for tobacco cases, because the victims are idiots. But if they're actually idiots, how ethical is it to sell them highly addictive drugs that also poison and kill them?

Seems like the nugget of your rhetoric is simply 'let those idiots die, and if they are survived by family that complains, sneer at them for being idiots.'

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Geraine
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwea:
Just when I thought the thread couldn't make any less sense....

Let's be honest, the thread didn't make any sense to begin with
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scifibum
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Wait, I know this one. That's the Loch Ness Monster defense!

Edit: er, um, the Chewbacca defense.

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Rakeesh
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Yeah, that stupid 13 year old getting hooked on a drug as addictive as heroin. What a fool! Every knew and accepted in 1973, and it was clearly stated on every pack, that smoking will absolutely, certainly kill you and by the way the only reason you want to smoke this is because you're addicted, now go ahead and make your informed choice and disregard all the advertising we still do for children in 1973.
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Rakeesh
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Just a fun fact: it was six years after this particular death that tobacco companies agreed that maybe it was bad to advertise magazines with a passing targeting towards adolescents such as Sports Illustrated.
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Herblay
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My argument is not "let the idiots die".
- If RJR did something wrong, try them for it.
- If there are damages, distribute them as best as you can.
- Once a verdict is reached, no further punitive damages should be enacted.

As the system stands, we have a company who is making a product. A product that people want. Every few years, some litigious yahoo sues because they want money for themselves. A judge that wants to make a political statement skims the company's profits to benefit THAT ONE litigious schmuck.

IF there are victims, they should all share the damages.

IF RJR did something wrong (sixty years ago?), they should only be tried once.

As for anyone born in the last fifty years or so, they knew the harm. You're blaming a company that made a known harmful product. You're giving one greedy person a bunch of money to make a political statement. I don't care if it's the system we have; it's wrong. Screw tort law.

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Herblay
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Another fun fact: more people die of alcohol than tobacco.

Just because smoking has become unpopular, why do we have any right to villainize smokers and tobacco companies?

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Rakeesh
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Alright, by this point it's clear you don't know and aren't interested knowing the history of tobacco advertising in this country, and what was required to be told about tobacco use, when.

As for demonizing smokers, I refer you to your own use of words such as fool, schmuck, and I think idiot but would have to check.

As for what your plan is, as I have already said, you clearly don't think companies such as RJR have actually done anything wrong, so this is all something of a fig leaf on your part-everyone one for fifty years knew precisely how dangerous smoking is, you've referred to those who did from lung cancer as idiots...connect the dots.

Just for the record though, this particular man who died started smoking nearly 30 years before it became illegal to market tobacco to children specifically, comprehensively. As a result of this addiction he picked up, he was dead 23 years after that...which was incidentally right around the time we finally stopped targeted advertising.

Maybe his wife isn't just a greedy schmuck who wants money. Maybe she's also angry about the whole addicted to a lethal drug in childhood which killed him thing too. Eh, she's probably just a schmuck, though. Tort law is bad because...ummm, market efficiency or something. Also because it gives money to greedy idiots, and that just makes Herblay *so mad*!

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Rakeesh
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quote:
Originally posted by Herblay:
Another fun fact: more people die of alcohol than tobacco.

Just because smoking has become unpopular, why do we have any right to villainize smokers and tobacco companies?

A fact that is even more fun: facts can be pretty stupid and unhelpful when they are stripped of context. Which in this case would be: how many people smoke, and how many people drink, and to what extent. Of course more people did from alcohol versus smoking. More people die from smoking that crystal meth, so it's more dangerous, right?
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Wingracer
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Also, alcohol has been demonized and regulated for a LOT longer than tobacco. The marketing strategies have been very different as well.
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Herblay
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:


Maybe his wife isn't just a greedy schmuck who wants money. Maybe she's also angry about the whole addicted to a lethal drug in childhood which killed him thing too. Eh, she's probably just a schmuck, though. Tort law is bad because...ummm, market efficiency or something. Also because it gives money to greedy idiots, and that just makes Herblay *so mad*!

I love when people twist my words because they think they have something intelligent to say.

So, you think this lady is more deserving than all of the other people who've lost loved ones to tobacco? Why is that? Because she can afford a good lawyer?

[ July 24, 2014, 03:28 PM: Message edited by: Herblay ]

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Herblay
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quote:
Originally posted by Wingracer:
Also, alcohol has been demonized and regulated for a LOT longer than tobacco. The marketing strategies have been very different as well.

I lost my entire family to a drunk driver. Where's my billion dollars?
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Herblay
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And everyone in my family has diabetes. Can I blame McDonald's for causing it? Or can I blame them for their advertising?

http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB4549.html

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scifibum
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Tort law is about accountability.

I think a lot of people would be open to reasonable reforms, such as:

1) Statutory caps on punitive damages.
2) Punitive damages do not go to the plaintiff, but into [some kind of general fund].
3) Limits on attorney's fees.
4) Herblay gets to file an opinion on each case.

But scrapping the whole system is just saying "oh well...it's okay if people harm each other in ways that we can't redress with the criminal justice system. Sure, we COULD continue to hold people financially accountable for the ways in which they deliberately or negligently cause harm to other people, but it makes me mad when people, who don't deserve things in my opinion, are awarded damages, so SCRAP IT!"

Incidentally, Herblay, I don't think you can realize the first two thirds of your vision here without something resembling tort law:

quote:
- If RJR did something wrong, try them for it.
- If there are damages, distribute them as best as you can.
- Once a verdict is reached, no further punitive damages should be enacted.


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Wingracer
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quote:
Originally posted by Herblay:
quote:
Originally posted by Wingracer:
Also, alcohol has been demonized and regulated for a LOT longer than tobacco. The marketing strategies have been very different as well.

I lost my entire family to a drunk driver. Where's my billion dollars?
No manufacturer has ever (at least in my lifetime) tried to tell its customers that driving while drinking was a safe and cool activity. Nearly every product ever made could kill somebody somehow. The difference is that big tobacco knowingly lied about the risks for years.
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scifibum
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quote:
Originally posted by Samprimary:
Yeah, it's like .. when the mcdonalds coffee burn lady got her settlement, everyone talked about how absurd the settlement cost was. But it was purposefully set at literally McDonald's profit for all of one day for their coffee sales alone.

This sounds very urban-legend-y to me, and I don't recall seeing it in the (generally favorable) analyses of that particular court award that I've read. Are you sure about that?

Edit: OK, I found on Wikipedia where it says the lawyer suggested a couple days worth of coffee revenues which is a different number than profit.

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Herblay
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The label "Big Tobacco" sure makes it easy to villainize, doesn't it?

So ... a handful of executives in a handful of companies ... in the sixties (was it?) ... had some information that a product that they marketed and sold might have health risk. And they didn't tell anybody. Now, sixty years later, we're still routinely stealing their profits to teach them a lesson?

What's the lesson? That these dead executives should've been more forthcoming with private data? That if society decides to villainize something, we can just steal money every few years and give it to a random "victim" while thousands of victims go without?

The problem with tort law is that the LEGAL SYSTEM has no accountability. We can just throw another suit at a company, every year or two, and eat all of their profits. Will it affect behavior? No. What will RJR do differently? Nothing.

Sure, we can show our disapproval by fining them out of business. American workers, right? Selling a legal product? To a willing consumer? Yeah, that sounds fair.

God. If we want to penalize them, drive up the taxes. Use them for education. But the cost will be passed on to the lower class consumers of tobacco. I'll stick with the belief that a free market is more efficient.

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Rakeesh
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I didn't twist your words, Herblay. You directly labeled her a greedy schmuck and a fool more than once.

Hey, if it's ok while you sing your arias to the market and poor victimized tobacco companies, could you continue to ignore the part where this particular dead person was hooked at 13? And continue to sidestep questions about the ethics of your 'they're idiots' argument is when we're talking about the marketing of lethal drugs to kids?

Thanks!

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Herblay
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I knew dozens of kids hooked at thirteen. I was hooked at thirteen. I'm sure this lady is so much better than all their families, so much more worthy of $23 B.

Yes, she wants money. Yes, she's pounding down the gates to get it. Yes, it's stupid. You still haven't answered my only question: why does she deserve it?

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Dogbreath
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quote:
Another fun fact: more people die of alcohol than tobacco.
http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

quote:
There are approximately 88,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year in the United States.
http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/tobacco_related_mortality/

quote:
Cigarette smoking causes about one of every five deaths in the United States each year.1,6 Cigarette smoking is estimated to cause the following:1

•More than 480,000 deaths annually (including deaths from secondhand smoke)
•278,544 deaths annually among men (including deaths from secondhand smoke)
•201,773 deaths annually among women (including deaths from secondhand smoke)

quote:
Exposure to secondhand smoke causes nearly 42,000 deaths each year among adults in the United States:1

•Secondhand smoke causes 7,333 annual deaths from lung cancer.1
•Secondhand smoke causes 33,951 annual deaths from heart disease.1


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Rakeesh
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Huh. My memory of those numbers was inverted. I wonder if I was remembering alcohol-contributing deaths or some such, or just got the numbers flipped? Egg on my face, in any event. I apologize for that, Herblay.

As for the rest, a few things. As for your 'why do they deserve it more', I note again that your arguments apply just as much to all of those other people too, so I'm still not sure what you mean by this pretense of outrage on their behalf. But to answer your question, though you've shown little inclination to do the same, the only thing is that they filed and won a lawsuit. Which isn't much, though it is something.

So now, *about* those other people. In the hypothetical massive government inquiry and assessment against big tobacco, what is your counter argument when those opposing it say 'those idiots knew better'-you know, like you've said here?

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