The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

It's Your Life, And You Can Do What You Want...

Hi. I'm SuperGirlfriend. And I'm a nicotine addict.

I started smoking in college, at the ripe old age of 18. And quit, successfully, some 18 years later. Technically speaking, I quit many, many times before that. Apparently, though, those earlier efforts were only temporary.

This story, about the association between cancer and smoking, that was published in June of 1957, is nearly 50 years old. For fifty years, the information has been out there that smoking is bad for you. In spite of that, I, myself, started smoking some 23 years AFTER the news broke. And I consider myself fairly smart.

Insanity? Perhaps. But, if it is, I'm hardly alone. Now, I'm not one of those Reformed Smokers Who Thinks That All Other People Who Smoke Should Quit. Not my place to live your lives for you. What I'm saying is that people do things, knowingly, that are bad for them all the time. Frankly, individual choice is kind of an All-American thing.

It wasn't easy quitting, but I'm very glad I did. The fact that I was capable of it makes me believe that others can do it, too. I don't imagine they'll have any easier time with it than I did. In fact, even as long as I've been quit, there are still times I REALLY want one. So, I'm not sure when (or if) that desire EVER leaves.

Living in Kentucky, one of the two top tobacco producing states in this country, I may have a different view about smoking and tobacco than others do. That's okay. It doesn't bother me overly. Given my personal preference, I'd rather not be around it, but I'm not so extreme as to want to affect someone else's right to choose. So I don't.

Tobacco is still big business here. Even with the declining use in this country. And because tobacco is still big business here, this state benefits from it, thus lowering my taxes. That, too, may affect my opinion on it. As may, my memories of summers working hanging tobacco on a cousin's farm many, many years ago.

Let me note, before we go any farther here, that I have no love of the tobacco industry. And I will acknowledge that cigarettes are a dangerous, though legal, substance. Do I think the tobacco industry should be held accountable for the destruction that cigarettes do? Sure. Perhaps they should be regulated and taxed to the nth degree. Perhaps the cost of cancer research should be borne, in large part, by big tobacco. Perhaps there is a way that we can find for them to give back to our society...to our communities...at large. I simply do not believe that they should be held accountable in the form of individual lawsuits to people who have, voluntarily, elected to smoke.

Now all of that was to get me to this. I was glad to see that the State of Florida rejected the $145 billion punitive damages claim brought by a pediatrician "on behalf of all addicted smokers in the U.S.". People can quit whenever they want. Certainly, any time after 1957, when news reports about the dangers of the habit started circulating, anyway. If they chose to continue to smoke, even after being advised of the dangers, that is their right. But it's also their burden.

I just don't think they get to be compensated for ignoring forty year's worth of information explaining the dangers of their continued collaberation with tobacco. Maybe that's just me. Maybe watching a video of a man in 1957 saying he's not afraid of the reports, and then thinking that 25 years later, that same man might be filing a suit citing the same medical reports he'd so fervently refused to believe, makes me say 'I've had enough.". 'Cause I have.

I'm not saying I don't feel badly for people who have learned this lesson the hard way. I most certainly do. Both of my paternal grandparents smoked for 40+ years, and both of them died of cancer. Neither of them were "surprised" that their decision to live their lives the way they did, led to the outcome they got. I'm just saying that I don't see the basis for a lawsuit.

In my eyes, that particular legal remedy is about holding a party liable for something bad that happens to you...where you had no way of foreseeing the outcome. Who, in 2006, can say that they had no idea cigarettes cause cancer? Even going back to 1994 when this suit was originally filed? I knew it in 1980 when I picked up one for the first time and, Hell, I was just a snot-nosed kid.

Maybe it's just that I'm sickened by the lawsuit mentality that we, as Americans, have come to accept. In any event, I'm not disappointed to see someone (even if it is in Florida) putting some limits on this stuff.

7 Comments:

Blogger Highlander said...

Back in college, my old buddy Slappy used to harangue me for hours... well, minutes, anyway... on end in regard to one of his pet peeves... that Charles Manson was sent to prison for life, and he hadn't been within several miles of the scenes of any of the crimes he was convicted for.

Slappy was very big on personal responsibility. It didn't matter to him that Manson masterminded the crimes. As far as he was concerned, Manson's little culties all had a choice. They didn't HAVE to do it, and just because Manson planned the murders and urged people under his total emotional dominance to do it, he should in no way have been held responsible. To Slappy, the very idea of sending someone to jail for something as foolish and custard headed as 'conspiracy to commit murder' was idiocy. You either did a crime or you didn't. That was the end of it.

Me, I have no trouble with the notion that Manson is still in jail for those murders. I don't care if he picked up a knife or not. He's at least partially responsible, and when it comes to mass murder and this level of atrocity, 'partially responsible' covers a lot of ground.

I suppose it's largely emotional. Let me try another analogy, although, of course, analogy is always suspect.

Let's say I meet a fellow at the bus stop one morning. He tells me he's planning to go home and kill himself. He gives no details, just asks me flatly what I think of the idea. I tell him "Fine idea, too many people in the world already, have at it, my good man". So he goes home and sticks his head in the oven.

Am I responsible? Even a little?

Okay, let's say he DOESN'T go home and kill himself. And I hear about this, and frankly, I'm incensed. So I call him up and repeat my advice. When he still won't off himself, I call him again, and now I'm actively trying to bully him into doing it.

He remains stubborn. So I take out ads in the paper, I send him letters, I buy up commercial time on TV. I hire a private investigator to look into his past and find out what kind of pressure he might be vulnerable to, and then I hire experts to advise me as to exactly what the best approach would be, to get this poor gump to finally knock himself off.

And he does. And when he does, a big insurance policy he didn't even know I'd taken out on him after our first conversation pays off, and I make a million dollars.

Now, am I responsible?

I don't know. And it's not the same thing. Analogy is never exact. But tobacco companies work in ways very much like this, except their methods of persuasion are targeted at millions of people at a time. They spend millions of dollars doing research, finding vulnerable target markets, crafting their ads specifically to work on their intended victim... I mean, customers'... psychological weak spots. They do everything they can, they sit down and they actively conspire, to get weak, silly, foolish people to buy a product that is both addictive and toxic. And when they succeed, they make billions of dollars doing it.

Are the people who buy the product responsible for the consequences of their actions? Sure. But the people who make the cigarettes and who sell the cigarettes are also active participants in this, and they do it for the money.

They conspire to ruin people's lives. For money. Lots and lots of money.

So I think we should hold them partially responsible for the consequences of their actions, too.

I don't believe in Prohibition. It doesn't work. In fact, if you make a law that says people can't do something, you're just going to make many of them want to do it more, and create a profitable sector for organized crime to set up in.

What I do think, however, is what I've mentioned before... I think we should find some way to make the manufacture of cigarettes so prohibitively non-profitable that corporations will give it up in disgust. And I think the way to do that is to pass Federal legislation making it mandatory that all cigarette-related health care bills be sent directly to the tobacco companies for payment. These are the consequences of their actions; they should have to pay for them… and frankly, I do not believe that I much want to live in a world and be part of a culture where people are allowed to make luxurious livings from the proceeds of selling addictive poison to the young, the foolish, and the gullible.

As to the sick American psychology of ‘the world owes me a living, let’s sue anyone we can’, yeah, I agree with you. But suing someone for doing damage to you is about the only remedy we have when the matter is outside criminal jurisprudence, and there are some actions that merit punitive action being taken. Conspiring to give humans cancer for money strikes me as being a worthy candidate for that list. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

7/06/2006 3:14 PM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Geez. You said it would be a long comment. I didn't realize it'd be as long as the post...;)

As I said, I am no fan of the tobacco industry. And I do not, for an instant, dispute the facts that the tobacco industry ACTIVELY pursues the public to sell them a product that is dangerous. In fact, they are the best at what they do. The firearms industry does this when they send reps to gun shows to talk to their base. The alcohol industry does this when they don't better control sales to minors. The pharmaceutical companies do this when they advertise for products like Viagra, that (pardon the pun) romanticize them to the point where people with heart afflictions are willing to overlook the risks and are ABLE TO FIND THEM AVAILABLE OVER THE INTERNET WITHOUT SEEING A DOCTOR.

But, if an adult obtains Viagra over the internet, uses it and suffers a heart attack, is the internet liable? Is the drug manufacturer liable? To some degree both of them are. But to a larger degree, the adult who made the decision to seek out the potentially dangerous product, ignoring the warnings, is primarily.

Tobacco has, traditionally, had very big coffers. And so, it was an apt target. A big bad with lots of money is very good source of solace when pain and death are dealt into the mix. But are the store-owners who sold the cigarettes included? Certainly, they know that the product they are selling is going to cause the problem. They certainly could have stopped big tobacco from getting to their clientele. I haven't seen Seven Eleven listed on the court documents, though. And, I doubt I will.

When I was a kid, personal responsibility was a much more treasured and valued trait than it is today. As the world moves farther and farther from those days, it leaves behind something I think is important.

To offer an analogy, my youngest ex-brother-in-law was (likely still is) constantly in trouble with the law. It was always because he did 'something'. The family would repeatedly make excuses for him. He was hanging with the wrong people or the police were picking on him or it wasn't him, it was the boy he was with. Stuff like that. He made the decision to do what he did. He did it with the full knowledge that there may be consequences for his decision. And, as an adult, he has to learn to accept those consequences.

Much as I'd like to agree that cigarette smokers are all silly, weak, foolish people, I don't think they are. I don't think I was, when I smoked. And I've known a great many people over the years who smoked and who I couldn't easily categorize that way. Nicotine is EXTREMELY addictive. And it isn't only addictive to silly, weak, and foolish people.

Luckily, though, there are treatment programs (several here in River City alone) and innumerable products available (often in the same stores where cigarettes are sold) to help even the silly, weak and foolish AVOID purchasing the very thing that is harming them. They have to make the decision to buy those products. Just like that have to make the decision to buy the cigarettes.

Like quitting anything, it only works when you want it badly enough. I have, more times than I'd like to say, seen people with terminal respiratory illnesses (some being assisted by oxygen) smoking cigarettes. They know it's killing them and they still do it.

Does that make them foolish? I suppose it may. But the ones I've talked to have simply decided that it doesn't matter to them. That going without the thing they want, when it won't change the outcome, isn't worth it to them. Clearly, they have given it thought.

Another point, I want to make is that there are a number of places along the route from manufacturer to lighting up that this tragedy could have been stopped. The trucking company that hauls the product, the shop-keeper who puts them in your hand, are two. But there are GOVERNMENTAL REGULATORY AGENCIES, whose responsibility it is to keep illegal products out of the hands of the American public. Oh, wait. Cigarettes are legal. So, if we’re suing the manufacturer, isn’t the trucking company and shopkeeper next in line? Though, they never are.

And, frankly, no matter how much advertising (bullying and otherwise), not every person who is touched by it will respond the same way. If ten people are exposed to the same advertising, those ten people will all respond according to their own personal agendas. Yes, some will certainly be more susceptible to the allure of the sexuality of cigarettes, but ultimately, they are making the decision to overlook the dangers.

At this point in history, there is nearly as much bad press touting the dangers of cigarettes as there is allowable advertising. The small warning on the pack is virtually inconsequential. In fact, I started smoking because I had friends that did. Not because of ANY advertising. And, to my knowledge, none of those friends ever got a kick-back from Phillip Morris. Advertising is a very powerful thing, and targeting demographics is certainly going to help get a product sold, good or bad, but in the end, each person makes the decision. And each person has to accept the responsibility.

Again, and I want to be clear (primarily because I’d like some sex later tonight) I think that cigarettes should be either illegal (which would entail some pretty hefty maneuvering), or that the tobacco industry should be held liable for the destruction they cause in some other manner. Currently, however, they are not illegal, and until lawmakers are willing to listen to their constituents and stand up to big tobacco and quit taking their money (and that’s an even nastier part of the tangled web), they will continue to be available for people to use to slowly kill themselves.

Sugar is legal, but diabetics are fervently warned to avoid it due to the significant consequences of ingesting this easily available substance. A fairly large percentage choose non-compliance, though. They eat products that contain sugar. Knowing, full well, that they are putting their health at risk with the completely legal, though harmful product. You think the tobacco industry advertises, the snack food industry rocks it like nobody (except maybe the beer people). I have not yet seen Nabisco named in a lawsuit where a diabetic died from eating too many cookies, though.

I believe that lawsuits brought by smokers, smokers who have not been forced, at gunpoint, to do something terrible to their bodies, completely discount what I feel is the most important part of the equation; a person’s decision to pick up something they know is harmful and ingest it in spite of that information. I’m not IN ANY WAY stating that I don’t think the tobacco industry bears some type of responsibility for a societal problem, what I am trying to convey is that I think that for individual (or even class action type) lawsuits, the bottom line (IN MY EYES) is a person’s ability and primary responsibility to take care of themselves. If they make a choice, knowing that there are risks, they must assume the larger liability.

And, yes, this is how I feel about it. I never really noticed how windy it is on this soapbox...;)

7/06/2006 5:05 PM  
Blogger MJ Norton said...

The only thing I'll add to this is that we live in a culture that enabled and promoted cigarette smoking to a tremendous degree for far more than a couple decades after that 1957 report. A popular culture that cultivated new smokers with various forms of advertising and, until fairly recently, in popular entertainment at all levels.

My point in that is that the popular message of coolness, decisiveness and/or complexity that so much of popular culture for so very long continued to press created a protective coccoon around the habit and fed the notion of deniability about the long term effects of cigarette smoking. Even in the situation when the dangers were accepted the message was that no one's going to live forever anyway, and smokers were more alive and engaged in the business of living than the frail, bloodless, non-smokers were.

Add to that the fact that this is a product available almost everywhere and it's easy to see how so many people could easily fall into thinking that it really wasn't necessarily that dangerous. During most of the years it was cancer that was the main focus, and somewhere in the head of most smokers was a parade of people who smoked for most of their lives and still lived into their 70s or later without any incidence of cancer. They conveniently forget or remain ignorant of the facts that people like Scatman Crothers - one of those celebrities who used to thumb his nose at the anti-smoking lobby - not only looked a lot older than he was, but in the end did die from lung cancer.

Many people take the naive view that government/body of law assumes the role of parent for adults, and if this stuff was really dangerous they wouldn't let us buy it.
Sure, this flies in the face of most reason, but whoever claimed most people were governed by reason?

(Oh, for the tangential record, I'm a little closer to Slappy on the Manson issue. Not that I particularly would want to have ol' Chuck running around my neighborhood, but life imprisonment for talking about something seems a little frightening. In the end, the significant thing is that he knew about it and didn't do anything about it, becoming most significantly a true accomplice after the fact. Then again I'd feel much safer in a world with Charlie running around than I do in one with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld free and in charge of so much.)

You know... I believe I still came out of this with the briefest post in the bunch. ;)

7/06/2006 11:52 PM  
Blogger AaA said...

Yeah... show me to the petition for the 'personal responsibility' people. I'll sign it. But...

Tobacco is a carcinogen. It contains chemicals that, when ingested over time, cause hypertension, arteriosclerosis, emphysema, and a host of other maladies. Tobacco contains nicotine, a deadly poison, in quantities that are not individually fatal. It has no redeeming medical benefits, and no noticeable mind-altering properties.

It should be illegal to manufacture or distribute it. The fact that it is not illegal is not an indictment of the tobacco industry. It is an indictment of the government, for failing to protect its citizens from a deadly poison and severe health hazard. The government had the opportunity to ban tobacco, and chose instead to get a cut of the profits from it. The ~$5 cost of a pack of cigarettes is mostly taxes. If 10% of Americans (just Americans mind you) smoke a pack a day, that's $160 million per day in total revenue, most of which goes to the government.

I saw some figures a while back indicating that the total cost of making, packaging, and shipping a pack of cigarettes was well under a quarter. Assuming that the tobacco companies charge double the cost, a consumer pays only $.50 for their cigarettes, the rest is taxes. Before anyone, especially the federal government (who pick the judges that hear these multi-million dollar cases against the tobacco industry, natch) points a blaming finger at the tobacco companies and says 'Shame, shame!', the American government needs to stop profiting 10 times as much from cigarettes as the tobacco companies do.

7/07/2006 1:57 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Mikey -

Smoking ads were yanked from tv in 1971. Thirty five years ago. And (boy do I hate feeling as if I'm defending the tobacco industry here) the sexualization of the product has declined significantly since. At any point along that road, people have had the opportunity to wake up and go, "Gee, hacking all morning, isn't nearly as cool as they made it seem in that advertising.", or "I wonder why Bobby gags when he kisses me after I've been smoking." Real life will show you how cool that stuff is pretty damned fast.

Honestly, though, I think the tobacco industry has some liability here. I just don't think it supercedes the personal responsibility factor of someone electing to purchase a potentially harmful product. I agree with Highlander, in that making cigarettes illegal is probably NOT the answer, but would like to point out that in 1997, when these lawsuits were starting to hurt the tobacco companies, they suggested a 'bail out', that would protect them from future suits and for which they would agree to the following:

Tobacco marketing

* BILLBOARDS: No billboards or other outdoor ads.

* IMAGES: No people or cartoons in ads or on cigarette packs.

* TEXT: Text-only ads in magazines with significant youth readership.

* SPORTS: No brand-name sponsorship of sporting events or brand-name promotional merchandise.

* INTERNET: No Internet advertising.

* PLACEMENT: No "product placement" in movies or on TV.

* WORDING: Limits on the use of such words as "light" to advertise cigarettes with the implication that they are safer.

* VENDING: A cigarette vending machine ban.

* SALES: Tobacco sold only behind store counters.

* LICENSES: A nationwide licensing system for all tobacco sellers, with penalties and license suspensions when tobacco is sold to minors or marketing curbs are violated. Penalties have not been finalized.

* ENFORCEMENT: Tobacco industry will provide state and federal funding to enforce the provisions.

* CONSENT: To protect against a First Amendment challenge or congressional opposition to these provisions, the tobacco companies will sign consent decrees with all states agreeing to this portion of the settlement.

Public education

* CAMPAIGNS: Industry will fund anti-smoking advertising campaigns, estimated at $500,000 a year.

* ASSIST: Industry will fund state and local tobacco-control efforts modeled on the National Cancer Institute's ASSIST program, which runs in 17 states.

* LABELS: Black labels covering the top fourth of cigarette packs, including "Cigarettes are addictive" and "Smoking can kill you."

Industry disclosure

* HARM: Industry will "tell the truth" about the harm tobacco causes.

* DOCUMENTS: All documents that would have been made public through lawsuits will be released. Whether this includes papers subject to attorney-client privilege is still being negotiated.

* COMPLIANCE: Manufacturers must develop detailed compliance plans and establish outside compliance monitoring, modeled on past state settlements with companies that violate federal pollution laws.

Smokers

* YOUTHS: Industry will pay fines if youth smoking fails to drop by 30 percent in five years, 50 percent in seven years and 60 percent in 10 years. The penalty is $80 million per percentage point by which the target was missed. The yearly fines would begin in 2002.

* CESSATION: Industry will fund tobacco cessation programs, including nicotine gum or patches, for would-be quitters who can't afford them.

* BANS: No smoking in public places and most workplaces unless there are separately ventilated smoking areas. Non-fast-food restaurants, bars, casinos and bingo parlors would be exempt.

* LOCAL PROVISIONS: States or local governments could enact more restrictive provisions.

Clinton elected not to accept the settlement offer. Apparently, we'd rather cripple them. And I understand that. Really, I do. But I think that MANY of the things they offered would have addressed the arguments we still have today. Holding them liable is one thing. Eliminating the responsibility of the party lighting up, at this stage of the game, is, in my opinion, another.

I'm not going to talk to you about Manson...at least not here...but, I will say that I found it amusing, as well, that Mike Norton had the shortest comment in a thread. Anywhere.

Nate -

You and I have discussed personal responsibility and the ethics therein on previous occasions, so I'm not surprised to find you backing me up there.

As you note, the American government is every bit is liable as the tobacco industry in this deadly scheme. It's not likely that ANY congressman is going to vote to shift that financial burden to the taxpayers, instead of letting the corporate bad guys cover it. Not to mention, you know the lobbyists are taking care of business there, too.

Until the government grows a set and does something about regulating such a harmful product, which, OF COURSE, is their job, and until people quit making the CHOICE to make themselves sick, I don't see the tobacco companies as any more complicit in the act.

Thanks, to all of you, for bringing up some excellent points. And, as you'd imagine, it was a topic of discussion around the house last night/this morning, as well.

7/07/2006 9:15 AM  
Blogger MJ Norton said...

Plenty of individual points to agree with from all sides, even when they prove the complexity of the real world by coming in at conflicting angles.

I don't want to characterize my argument as denying personal resposibility, but I did think it was at least as fair to point out how popular media and attitudes continued to make smoking a positive thing in the minds of millions of people for many years past those points. A medical report in 1957 and a tv ad cessation in 1971 simply didn't have the impact one might have expected.

Direct advertising in other media and an enormous amount of what amounts to product placement in tv shows and movies continues to this day to keep smoking in the public eye as a highly visible trademark of people who were focused, committed, dedicated and/or in some fashion or other meant to be cool and admirable. In some characters it is at least presented as a Persian, even tragic flaw -- something that defined a sort of single weakness that freed the audience to accept the character as superior in most or all other respects.

Smokers in fiction and in real life use both the lighting up of cigarattes and the smoking of them for dramatic effect. They pose and gesture with them. They use them for thoughtful pauses, bordering on dramatic ones. Smoking quickly becomes part of their character. This also feeds the addiction cycle by adding strong psychological addictions to the physical ones.

The increasing taxation on cigarettes and the rise of local ordnances restricting where people can smoke is doing a great deal to curb the matter here in the U.S., and thusfar is proving to be the most effective means (pressed by constant public education) of tackling the problem. As has been mentioned and apparently agreed all around, criminalizing it outright simply wouldn't work. Unfortunately it's not a fraction as simple a matter as banning outright the sale of leaded gasoline (roughly around the same time as the tv ad ban was put into place, coincidentally) was.

While I can lay many failures at the feet of the Clinton administration, not accepting the tobacco bail-out isn't one of them. I don't for a moment believe it would have resulted in a truly freer flow of information from the tobacco industry, and in the end it would have mostly just effectively created a cap on damages directly and/or by imposing a cut-off date for litigation.

The penalties for youth smoking statistics would have been challenged and hung up in paper shuffling for years at the very least. Even if they did have to pay some of them these would be predictable, and therefore a manageable business expense.

Complicated issue, to be sure.

7/07/2006 10:18 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

One minor (heh...in a string of 2000 word comments) clarification on the Clinton bailout. On reread, it may appear that I would have backed such a gesture. I have to agree, Mike, that while it would have addressed many of the issues we still struggle with almost ten years later, it would have provided a juncture for some legal maneuvering the likes of which we have likely never seen.

7/07/2006 10:41 AM  

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