The Tobacco Issue: Essay, Research Paper
The Tobacco Issue:
Where the Responsibility Lies
The legal and political issues surrounding the tobacco industry include whether or not tobacco companies should be held liable for tobacco-related deaths of smokers and those related to second-hand smoke, as well as whether or not elected officials should be accepting money from the tobacco industry in order to win elections. When deciding where the responsibility lies in the case of tobacco, the facts can be turned to favor either side on the issue. However, the tobacco industry has followed the government s guidelines, since guidelines have been established, while the government seems to want to place blame for peoples habits on the manufacturers of products that people choose to use.
The first issue to examine is the issue surrounding the use of the judicial system in finding responsibility for the epidemic surrounding the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry is the defendant in the majority of cases brought before the judiciary and, historically, the majority of the cases have been decided in favor of the industry. In a landmark case in 1988, the tobacco industry won a huge victory against Rose Cipollone. Ms. Cipollone died a horribly painful death from cancer. The defendant in the case was Philip Morris. Philip Morris council argued that it was the woman s choice to smoke. This woman had even testified that she had gone to church every Sunday to pray that she would not get lung cancer. She knew the risks involved with smoking and chose to continue smoking. Philip Morris won the case. (Byrne, 189-190). For years the tobacco industry won case after case involving cancer victims that had smoked. Even today, much of the litigation by smokers has been decided in favor of the industry. In July of 1999 the Louisiana District Court, 19th District decided the case of Robert Gilboy et al. V. The American Tobacco Co., et al. in favor of the defense. The jury was not convinced that 45 years of smoking had caused Mr. Gilboy s lung cancer. In the case of the Estate of Burl Butler, et al. V. Philip Morris, Inc., et al., the Jones County, Mississippi Circuit Court, 2nd District jury found the tobacco industry defendants not liable for the alleged second-hand smoke related wrongful death of Mr. Butler. This case was decided in June of 1999. An important win for the defense was gained in Kansas City, Missouri in May of 1999. The case of Michelle Steele et al. V. Brown and Williamson Corp. was decided in U.S. District Court in Kansas City. The trial was the result of a wrongful death suit brought by the children of Charles Steele. The children were suing the tobacco company for their father s death by lung cancer at age 56. Mr. Steele had smoked cigarettes for years. The outcome in this trial is not as important as the comments made by the jury foreman in the case. Mr. White, the jury foreman, was quoted as saying that Mr. Steele knew what he was doing. He knew that cigarettes were bad for him, but that they gave him pleasure. He decided that the pleasure outweighed the dangers. (Trials, 1-3).
While there have been some significant victories for the defense, there have been several recent verdicts from the judicial system in favor of the plaintiffs. The tobacco industry has already paid out billions of dollars in settlements over the past several years. In an April 1999 case, Charles Connor V. Lorillard et al., a six-person jury found in favor of the plaintiff for liability in the death of a former Kent smoker. The jury awarded $2 million in punitive damages and $225,000 in compensatory damages to Mr. Connor. The case was decided in a Baltimore, Maryland City Circuit Court. In March of 1999, Philip Morris suffered a loss in the case of Joann Williams-Branch v. Philip Morris, Inc. A Portland, Oregon jury ruled that the company was liable for the death of Jesse Williams and awarded $81 million to the plaintiff. This was not the first loss for Philip Morris. In an earlier case, decided on February 9, 1999 by the Superior Court of California, San Francisco, Henley v. Philip Morris, Inc., et al., the jury awarded $50 million in punitive and $1.5 million in compensatory damages to a smoker with lung cancer. The suit was brought on behalf of an older woman that was dying of lung cancer. She had smoked Marlboro brand cigarettes for most of her life. The jury found Philip Morris liable for product defect, failure to warn, negligence, fraud, false promise, express warranty, and conspiracy. The trial judge reduced the punitive damages to $25 million, but the total award was still $26.5 million for a person making a conscious decision to smoke cigarettes despite warnings that they are bad for a person s health. (Trials, 1-6).
The U.S. Government Legislative Branch:
While the main issue before the judicial system is liability, the legislative branch of the U.S. government has also been heavily involved in the tobacco issue throughout history. This brings the issue of regulations to the forefront in this matter. Since the first major restrictions, the 1965 Labeling Act requiring warning labels on all cigarette packages, there has been a steady stream of legislation concerning the tobacco industry. In 1990, a federal law went into effect to permanently ban smoking on all flights within the continental U.S., as well as flights between the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. This law covered flights of less than six hours that originated or terminated in Alaska or Hawaii, in addition to the flights within the continental U.S. In 1992, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) approved a resolution to urge restriction of smoking on all international flights. This led to the implementation of a complete smoking ban on any and all flights by July 1, 1996. (Involuntary Smoking, 1-2).
The following list, taken from the American Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Multistate Master Settlement Agreement of November, 1998, is just a smattering of the extensive legislation that has involved the tobacco industry over the years. This list is not all-inclusive and does not begin to tell the story of government interdiction into private industry:
+ There are 46 states, including the District of Columbia, that restrict smoking in public places, the most extensive of the clean indoor air laws to include restaurants and private workplaces (20 states).
+ Forty-one states have laws that restrict smoking in state government worksites.
+ All 50 states restrict the sale of tobacco products to minors. Twenty-three of the states may suspend or revoke a retail tobacco product license for violation of youth access laws.
+ Twenty-two states restrict the distribution of free samples of tobacco products.
+ Twenty-four states restrict the sale of tobacco products in vending machines.
+ Forty-six states require licensing of anyone selling tobacco products.
+ The multi-state Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) of 1999 requires the discontinuation of certain types of outdoor advertising, most notably billboards.
+ The MSA also prohibits the use of cartoons by participating manufacturers in advertising, promotion, packaging, or labeling of any tobacco products.
+ All 50 states have an excise tax on cigarettes. Forty-two of these also have excise taxes on smokeless tobacco products.
+ Thirty states have preemption provisions in their tobacco control laws, which means that localities cannot implement any more restrictive laws than the state has mandated.
The above listing only touches the surface of tobacco legislation. The laws have become very restrictive of the tobacco industry. However, it was not always this way. In 1933, the legislature actually passed laws that protected the industry. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 allowed the legislature to implement marketing quotas and price supports for tobacco farmers. These quotas and price supports effectively raised the farm-level price of tobacco. This led to slightly increased prices for tobacco products to consumers, which served to lower the consumption of tobacco products. It also allowed U.S. tobacco manufacturers to remain competitive in the world market for tobacco. Under the tobacco program, marketing quotas were set each year and were very successful in yielding higher prices for U.S. tobacco on both the U.S. and world markets. (Snell, 1). The current legislative situation has changed dramatically from this law. There are currently over 50 bills pending in the House of Representatives and the Senate concerning tobacco in some way, the vast majority of which are for further restrictions being placed on the tobacco industry. This tremendous activity helps to explain why the executive branch of the U.S. government has also thrown its considerable resources against the tobacco industry by filing suit in the federal courts against the industry giants.
The U.S. Government The Federal Suit:
The U.S. government, through the Department of Justice, filed a civil lawsuit against the major tobacco manufacturers for recovery of healthcare costs associated with the use of tobacco products. The government is attempting to recover billions of dollars the federal government spends yearly on smoking-related healthcare costs. The government alleges that the cigarette companies have conspired since the 1950 s to defraud and mislead the public and to conceal information about the effects of smoking. The government s suit relies on three federal statutes, including the Medical Care Recovery Act, the Medicare Secondary Payer Act, and the civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. The government alleges that the RICO statutes apply to the cigarette companies because they have been defrauding the public by releasing misleading research, falsifying documents, and failing to warn consumers of research the companies conducted that confirmed that cigarettes were hazardous to health. The federal government s suit is similar to the ones filed by the states, which resulted in more than $200 billion in a settlement paid to the states, but focuses on the costs incurred through the Medicare program, which is solely funded by the federal government. The government allegedly spends over $20 billion per year to treat smoking-related diseases. (DOJ, 1-3).
The government s lawsuit alleges a substantial cost to American taxpayers for the care of millions of Americans who smoked and incurred alleged smoke-related illnesses. The cost to the taxpayer is the central issue in the case. The cost the government reports is not the true cost when scrutinized in its entirety. Cigarette smoking actually results in a net gain for the government. The government spends more money treating nonsmokers, since they live much longer than smokers do. Also, since the government profits from excessive tax revenues received from smokers and tobacco companies, the government has greatly benefited from the tobacco industry. (Barr, 6). To put the issue into perspective, figures are available for just three counties in northeastern North Carolina that show just a small amount of the exorbitant revenues the government collects from the tobacco industry. These three counties are not even located within the heart of tobacco country. However, they generate over $287.4 million in excise and sales taxes for the state and federal government each year. Each acre of tobacco results in $21,616 in federal excise taxes per year. (Coltrain, 1). These figures do not include the subsequent sales tax levied on the purchase of a pack of cigarettes, effectively taxing the tax on a product. The government s claim that smoking costs taxpayers money is unfounded. The government is making a net profit each year from the tobacco industry.
The government s case is also hindered by the 1947 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that the federal government cannot recover medical damages from private companies without statutory authorization from Congress. The government s suit is simply an act of extortion, hoping the cigarette companies will settle the case out of court as they did with the states cases earlier. When the tobacco industry settled the cases with the states, despite a string of victories in the courts, the precedent was set that the industry would rather settle than fight. The government has targeted this industry in the hopes that the industry will again cave in from the outside pressure of public opinion. (Barr, 7). This leads to the question of, why stop with the tobacco industry? The government could easily target other sectors of private industry. The alcohol industry is a prime target.
There are over 105,000 deaths in the U.S. from alcohol-related causes. This is only 260,000 less than tobacco-related deaths per year. (Columbia, 1). The cost to society is estimated at around $50 billion per year. In spite of the statistics revealed concerning alcohol-related death, drinking and driving remains commonplace in the U.S. There has been inadequate attention given to the problem, since law enforcement and the judicial system have been completely ineffective in deterring drunken driving incidents. Despite these facts, the alcohol industry has increased its marketing spending in order to increase the consumption of alcohol. Most of this advertising has been focused on the young male (the same allegation levied against the cigarette industry. (Lucas, 1). These facts mirror the allegations the government has made against the tobacco industry. The major difference between the two industries is the fact that youth smoking is not illegal, but drinking underage is illegal in all states. The government is blaming the tobacco industry for youth smoking, yet a child can smoke a cigarette right in front of a policeman without fear of punishment. The only practice made illegal by the government is the sale of tobacco to minors. The sale of liquor to minors is also illegal, but the consumption of alcohol by a minor is also illegal. Kids cannot drink liquor in front of a policeman without fear. The amount of money spent, annually, on alcohol related illnesses is not known, but it has to be substantial. Even so, the government has not tightened restrictions on the alcohol industry nor has it filed suit to recover any of these costs.
The case is misleading. The government is suing the tobacco industry for the misuse of a lawfully manufactured product that is not defective in any way. The government alleges the industry misled the public and withheld information that would be detrimental to the sale of its product. However, the government is setting a very dangerous precedent with this case. The government is to encourage free enterprise and also set forth the ideals of freedom and self-responsibility. Holding a manufacturer liable for the misuse of a lawfully manufactured product is unreasonable. (Barr, 8-9) The cigarette manufacturers have complied with every restriction the government has placed on the industry, including warning labels and non-advertising campaigns, as well as awareness campaigns concerning the dangers associated with smoking. The government is now attempting to extort money from the industry on top of the windfall the government already receives each year.
Tobacco as a Campaign Issue:
This leads to the issue of accepting tobacco donations to campaign funds. Recent tobacco legislation has been thwarted in the Senate. Some say it is because of money from tobacco companies for certain candidates. However, the facts show that the tobacco industry contributes to a majority of the legislature, and the individual amounts of these contributions do not coincide with votes regarding tobacco issues. As evidenced in exhibit 1, the Senate held a vote on June 17, 1998, at which opponents to the tobacco industry lost an important vote to push legislation through concerning the tobacco industry. The Senate needed 60 votes to limit debate and force a vote on the tobacco legislation. Exhibit 1 represents tobacco PAC and individual contributions to Senators for the last three election cycles (1993-98). The average total for the 42 Senators who voted against limiting debate (in favor of the tobacco industry) was $25,748. The average total for the 57 Senators who voted for limiting debate, however, was still $7,986. The exhibit shows that both proponents and opponents of the tobacco industry willingly accept campaign contributions from the industry and from friends of the industry.
The second issue is the use of huge tobacco litigation wins being used to bolster someone into a political office. The Democratic Party had hoped to capitalize on some large victories over the tobacco industry in last year s major attorney s general class action lawsuit against the leading tobacco manufacturers to win gubernatorial seats in major states. Two of the most outspoken opponents of the tobacco industry, attorneys general Hubert H. Humphrey III and Scott Harshbarger, ran for governor in their respective states of Minnesota and Massachusetts. Both of them are democrats and were instrumental in negotiating large settlements with the tobacco industry for their respective states. However, both lost their bids, Humphrey finishing a distant third behind Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura and his Republican opponent, Norm Coleman in Minnesota. Both used the tobacco issue as a major part of his campaign platform. There were several other potential candidates that lost major elections where the tobacco issue was heavily focused on in their platforms. (Torry & Schwartz, A02).
Most agree that the issue had become impotent since the Senate Republicans had voted to kill the national tobacco bill last June and too much time had passed. Also, the industry made a concerted effort, through advertising campaigns, to paint the Democrats as candidates in favor of higher taxes. There was at least one election where the tobacco issue was used to defeat an opponent. In Massachusetts, Acting Governor Paul Cellucci accused Harshbarger of being a taxer and spender because he supported a large tobacco tax, which was already in effect that funds Medicaid coverage for about 100,000 residents. Since Harshbarger ended up defending the tax, the campaign paid off for Governor Cellucci and he won reelection. The reason this tactic worked was not the tobacco issue itself, but the underlying elements in a candidate s platform. The use of a victory over the tobacco industry has not been effective in winning an election, at least not yet. (Torry & Schwartz, A02).
In a recent article in Business Week, written by John A. Byrne, an in-depth view of the world s largest tobacco manufacturing company shows the full scope of the tobacco issue. Philip Morris is one of the most reviled companies in the U.S., however the company continues to be one of the world s most generous corporations. The company contributes over $60 million in cash and $15 million in food to fight hunger, domestic violence, and to support the arts. Employees of the company contribute over $5 million a year to various charities. But, the company fights an uphill battle, even when it comes to charitable contributions. Recently, the company awarded a $4.3 million grant to the National 4-H Council but activists were quick to mount a lobbying effort to get state groups to reject the grants, alleging that Philip Morris generosity was little more than a public relations stunt to drum up new support for the ailing industry. More than half of the agencies have since turned down the funding. The company has been attempting to cut down on youth smoking by implementing forward-thinking campaigns against youth smoking. Philip Morris has ended cigarette sampling, mail distribution of cigarettes, vending-machine sales, and mass-transit and outdoor advertising. The company has spent money and time to train more than 30,000 retailers on how to recognize face I.D.s and upped its investment in youth smoking-prevention programs to $100 million. This does nothing for the public s image of the tobacco firm and the stock has shown this disdain. In the words of the current Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, Geoffrey C. Bible, the company has become the dog of the Dow, whose stock has dropped off $83.2 billion in value over the past several years. All of this has forced the company to expand its overseas markets in order to survive in the corporate world. The main incentives to overseas marketing and capitalization are the fact that there are more tolerant nonsmokers abroad and the opposition is less organized, but the most important reason to move is the fact that overseas consumers are less litigious than in the U.S. But, the company plans responsibility in the overseas markets. The company now has 83 youth prevention programs in 55 countries in order to prevent attack on the industry. (Byrne, 176-192).
The bottom line in the debate over the tobacco industry is responsibility. This is a question that each person must answer for themselves, but the law is on the side of the tobacco firms and the political climate, though changing rapidly, must take into account the ramifications of regulations that are too stiff on an independent, legal industry before passing judgment. Tobacco is dangerous. No one disputes this claim any longer. However, the responsibility must remain with the individual. The state cannot hold an industry responsible for the misuse of a product. Tobacco is a risky product. Beer is a risky product. There are foods .that are risky products. I think that adults are wise enough to make decisions about those things. I am concerned about a society that might restrict or restrain those choices. You know, today it s tobacco. Tomorrow, maybe it s beer. The next day, it might be hot dogs. I think I m capable of deciding whether or not I want to eat a hot dog. This quote is from Robert A. Eckert, Chief Executive Officer of Kraft Foods, Inc. (Byrne, 184) and vividly illustrates the slippery-slope possibilities surrounding more and more legislation of the tobacco industry.
Since the 1930 s, the United States government has strictly regulated the tobacco industry. However, the last few decades have shown the most drastic regulations including the regulation of sale as well as advertising of tobacco in this country. The ultimate intention of the government is to reduce the amount of tobacco consumed by consumers in this country in order to provide healthier lives for the American population.
The tobacco industry has seen the consumption of its products rise worldwide. It has grown in about 100 countries and takes in more than $275 billion in sales with about 1.5 percent growth per year. These numbers are in spite of a 2 percent decrease in the 1.1 million smokers, which accounts for over one quarter of the world s population, over the last decade (Hoovers). One may wonder how this is possible. One reason is that some government restrictions actually work in the tobacco companies favor. Since the tobacco companies are not allowed to spend virtually any money on marketing domestically, they have more money to spend on marketing overseas, where its markets continue to grow due to the prestige of the American blend cigarettes. This rise in tobacco use accompanies the rise of disposable income in these markets, where regulation and demonization have not had an impact yet (Masters, 87).
China consumes about 30 percent of all cigarettes produced, more than any other country. The China National Tobacco Corporation also leads the world in tobacco and cigarette production. The U.S. only accounts for about 10 percent, but the industry takes in about $45 billion yearly. This comes out to the average smoker spending more than $260 per year on tobacco products. Sales in the industry have also shown an increase in the past decade from just over $200 billion to well over $260 billion (Hoovers).
The U.S. tobacco industry is extremely profitable because of the oligopoly the companies have, which makes entry into the market extremely difficult. The level of sales needed to justify the enormous legal cost associated with this controversial market also makes market entry difficult for new companies. Although tobacco companies profit margin is about double that of any other packaged good, the substantial costs of packaged goods on a national scale, along with the money it takes to acquire facilities for production and distribution, are major barriers to entry in the tobacco industry (Hoovers).
Higher selling prices and greater restrictions on where people are allowed to smoke have proven to be effective in lowering the consumption of tobacco. Another factor that has lowered consumption is America s increased interest in healthy living, largely attributable to the baby boom generation. The older people get, the more they pay attention to what constitutes a healthy lifestyle. These factors have called for the increased government regulation of tobacco in its industry. The regulations the government has set forth however, have ironically made the tobacco companies more profitable. The U.S. and state governments are direct beneficiaries of these profits receiving $11.9 billion from excise taxes in 1993 (Coltrain). Tobacco, in this aspect, can be argued that it is a great economical asset to our governments.
In 1998, a $206 billion agreement was reached between tobacco producers and 46 states to resolve all state claims for health costs related to smoking, which has forced the tobacco companies to make changes (Melillo). Earlier this year, advertising on billboards, sides of buses, subways, and tops of taxis has come to a halt. Stadium advertising has also stopped and tobacco companies are only allowed one sponsorship per year per company. In addition to this agreement, President Clinton signed legislation in August of 1997 to reduce tobacco consumption even further. This legislation will increase the federal excise taxes (FET), on cigarettes to 34 cents per pack beginning on January 1, 2000. Taxes on other tobacco products will also increase accordingly. On January 1, 2002, the FET will increase again for all tobacco products with a 39 cents per pack increase for cigarettes. In addition to the federal taxes, states can also impose taxes on tobacco products. These taxes range from one dollar per pack to as low as 2. 5 cents per pack. 43 states impose sales tax on cigarettes. The USDA has estimated that the taxes on tobacco have caused the consumption of cigarettes to decline nearly 10 percent from 1990 to 1998. The reason consumption has declined is because of consumers demand elasticity. Demand elasticity is a measure of how responsive a market is to price changes. Since the tobacco market is elastic, an increase in price would cause a drop in consumption (Standard & Poors).
The $206 billion dollar settlement that was reached last year between the tobacco companies and the 46 states was a compact replacement of the first attempted deal. The cigarette makers agreed to give the states $358 billion over 25 years, plus $10 billion up front in lump-sum damages. The money would have come from raising cigarette prices by 35 cents per pack straight away and by 62 cents after five years, plus allowances for evaluation. The only people this deal would hurt would be the consumers. This plan failed because congressional leaders were not brought on board, and for the plan to work they had to agree to it. The bill was then recast as a company-bashing measure and the manufacturers backed out. This resulted in the $206 billion settlement, a multi-state deal that required no cooperation in Washington (Standard & Poors).
It would have been better for states to impose an explicit, well-designed tax with more marketing restrictions. Instead, the settlement allows each participating state to levy a tax on cigarettes sold anywhere in America. The states that do not take part will still pay the tax and will receive no share of the revenues, which is a strong incentive for states to sign on. The reasons the explicit, well-designed tax with more marketing restrictions was not imposed is because there would have been nothing in it for the lawyers. These taxes would have also required express legislative approval state by state, which the settlement was designed to get around, and because an explicit tax could only be levied by any particular state only on cigarettes sold within that state. In short, the lawyers have come up with the settlement so they can get a piece of the action (Economist).
The nation s crop of leaf is grown by tobacco farmers, located mainly in the southeastern U.S., and accounts for 502,210 jobs (Capehart). Their crop is usually sold at public auction to the highest bidder. Leaf prices are supported under the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, which has been amended many times over the years but the program s basic components remain in place. U.S. tobacco growers are guaranteed minimum prices through price supports and this system has made U.S. grown tobacco more expensive than most non-U.S. tobacco, which results in a decline in exports (Standard & Poors).
The number of farms growing tobacco has declined rapidly during the last 40 years. From 1992 to 1997 farm numbers declined more than any other period since 1950. This trend toward fewer, larger farms will continue, but at what rate will depend on several factors such as the factors covered earlier: policies and programs affecting tobacco, U.S. and world consumption of tobacco, and alternative crop and off-farm income opportunities for tobacco growers (Foreman).
Ethics is the general nature of morals and the specific moral choices an individual makes in relating to others. Like most major issues, the tobacco issue poses some ethical questions that are difficult to answer. One factor that makes these ethical questions so difficult is that people generally search for the answer that pleases them the most. For example, if one were to ask a person who had developed lung cancer from smoking whether or not the big tobacco companies should be responsible for his or her disease, he or she would probably answer affirmatively. However, if someone were to ask a nonsmoker who should be responsible, he or she would probably answer that the individual himself is responsible. Some of the ethical issues that society is facing with the tobacco industry are: the placement of responsibility on the consumer or the producer, the question of whether the producers have to pay compensatory damages for smoking illnesses, the issue of involuntary smoking, selling in foreign markets and lastly the promotion of tobacco products.
Tobacco use accounts for at least 29% of all cancer deaths, is a major cause of heart disease, and is associated with conditions ranging from colds and gastric ulcers to chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and cerebrovascular disease. On average, each cigarette pack sold costs Americans more than $3.90 in smoking-related expenses. The fact is, when smokers purchase a pack of cigarettes at the store they know what they are buying! Like many other products that are sold today, they are dangerous to your health if used excessively. If it were to be decided that the tobacco companies were responsible for smoking related illnesses, it could open up a whole new view on product liability. Take the alcohol industry for example: drinking an excessive amount of alcoholic beverages has been proven to increase the chances of developing serious health problems. Should the alcohol manufacturers be responsible for this? The logical answer is no! There have been warnings posted on cigarette packs since 1966 informing the consumer of the carcinogenic contents of cigarettes and their harmful effects. Consumers of tobacco products understand that there are certain health risks involved in smoking. It is not a case of merely educating people about the risks of smoking. What it comes down to is personal freedom: people have the right to smoke. Accompanying any type of right or privilege are consequences and responsibilities. People make the conscious choice to smoke and must therefore accept the consequences of that choice.
Smoking costs the United States approximately $97.2 billion each year in health-care costs and lost productivity. The ethical question posed here is whether or not the government should be compensated for this cost. The U.S. Justice Department launched a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against the tobacco industry, accusing the world s largest cigarette companies of conspiring to defraud and mislead the public for more than 40 years. The lawsuit, filed in Washington, seeks to recover the medical costs for treating smoking-related conditions paid by the federal government over the past six years as well as a potentially huge sum representing the disgorgement of ill-gotten gains dating back to the 1950 s (Edgecliffe, 1). Critics of this lawsuit say that the case is not based on facts and that the government is merely trying to make a financial gain. They also point out that the government has been involved in almost every aspect of the tobacco industry and has already collected tens of billions of dollars in taxes on cigarette sales. The case brought on by the justice department is not the only threat against the big tobacco companies. There are also cases being filed by 46 U.S. states, individual sick smokers, and even class action lawsuits. If the case with the U.S. Justice Department was settled, it would prohibit punitive damages for all future legal claims against the tobacco industry, set an annual cap on the amount of compensatory damages allowable in all future legal cases against the industry, prohibit class-action lawsuits, third-party payer suits, and claims against industry attorneys, and legislatively settle all present and future claims of potential plaintiffs, including generations of future tobacco victims not yet born (Siegel, 15). Each of these rulings involves some ethical implications. By prohibiting punitive damages and putting a cap on the amount of compensatory damages, the Justice Department is addressing the fact that the tobacco manufacturers are not doing anything wrong in production of their products, but it allows for people to collect compensatory damages up to a certain limit when serious illnesses occur.
When considering the ethical implications of smoking, one must look at everyone involved in the issue. Certainly, the consequences of tobacco use directly affect the user, who suffers the harm resulting from a conscious choice of using the substance. Just as significantly, passive inhalation has contributed to the declining health of non-users, who are exposed to this product (Otapski, 1). In 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared that secondhand smoke is a human carcinogen. They estimate that about 3,000 nonsmoking adults die of lung cancer each year as a result of breathing the smoke of others cigarettes. Government regulations relating to smoking in public buildings were rare prior to the 1970 s. Most of the regulations that were in effect were intended to promote safety through fire prevention. The number of regulations relating to second- hand smoke in public buildings has grown tremendously. These statutes, generally known as clean indoor air laws, extended public safety concerns by limiting the nonsmoker s exposure to tobacco smoke in public establishments and private work places (Otapski, 2). Smokers and nonsmokers have conflicting interests in exercising their respective liberty in shared facilities. To completely ban cigarette smoking would be unjust to smokers; yet allowing people to use tobacco products in public buildings, even if it is segregated, infringes on the non-user s rights. This is the ethical problem that concerns individual rights. Since the effects of secondhand smoke were discovered, most public places have banned cigarette smoking while others have divided the seating up into smoking and nonsmoking sections.
Per capita consumption of cigarettes continues to decline in the U.S. Data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) shows that cigarette smoking among adults aged 18 and over declined 40% between 1965 and 1990. There was little to no change in smoking prevalence between 1990 and 1994, however. This has prompted the larger tobacco companies to use more aggressive marketing by expanding into foreign markets, hence increasing tobacco exports from about 2.1 billion in 1986 to 5.3 billion in 1996. The largest overseas markets for U.S. cigarettes are Japan and Europe. Does the U.S. bear any responsibility for chasing tobacco overseas? Not if it is determined that people are responsible for their own choices; there is no way to justify that it is morally wrong for the companies like Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds to be responsible for smoking related illnesses that occur overseas.
The promotion of tobacco products is another area that has ethical implications. Critics of the tobacco companies suggest that the advertising for their tobacco products is geared toward the younger generation. This was especially true after the introduction of Joe Camel by RJ Reynolds. Before his introduction, Camel captured 1% of the teen market; now it s 60% (Bangor, 12). In defense of the tobacco companies since most youth-oriented magazines have many more adult readers than youth readers, these studies cannot exclude the possibility that cigarette advertisements in these magazines may be targeting young adult readers age 18 to 24 rather than those younger than 18 years of age (King, 516). On August 23, 1996, President Clinton approved the FDA regulation which includes reducing easy access to tobacco by youth by: setting a minimum age of 18 with age verification, banning vending machines except where minors are not allowed, prohibiting the sale of single cigarettes, and prohibiting the distribution of free cigarette samples. The FDA has also created other regulations in order to reduce the appeal of tobacco products to children.
There are numerous ethical implications when looking at the tobacco issue. The biggest issue is that of responsibility. The tobacco companies should not be held accountable for the illnesses that people incur from using tobacco products. There are many products on the market that can cause health problems if used in excess; cigarettes are not excluded. Since the consumer is responsible for his or her actions, the tobacco manufacturers should not be obligated to pay any compensatory or punitive damages on behalf of the tobacco user. Tobacco use in the U.S. is currently experiencing little or no growth. This is due partially to the more rigid regulations regarding advertising and to the fact that smoking is no longer allowed or has been constricted to a certain area in most public buildings. Since tobacco use is slowing down in the U.S., the tobacco giants are focusing their efforts toward foreign markets. The responsibility should be lifted for tobacco companies who sell their products overseas, as long as they follow the same requirements that the FDA has implemented in the U.S. No matter what country, people are ultimately responsible for how they want to live their lives. If they choose to buy a pack of cigarettes and ignore the risks written on the package, that is their right! Everyone knows that smoking kills, the question is: is it worth it?
Social Aspects of Tobacco Smoking
The consumption of tobacco by smoking is quite an intriguing social phenomenon. Although there are opposing views as to whether or not substances found in the smoke, such as nicotine, are physically addictive, it is not difficult to see the social compulsion exerted on a large number of people.
There are a number of ways in which we can observe some of the unique social aspects of smoking. One of the most interesting is that of the smoker s bond . There exists, among a surprising number of smokers, an instant unspoken bond amongst them, strictly because they do smoke. A smoker who happens to be out of cigarettes can approach a total stranger on the street and ask for a cigarette, and it is not perceived by the general public as being particularly odd. It is hard to think of any other consumable good that forms this kind of bond amongst strangers.
Another interesting observation is that of the cigarette as a prop, or as a tool. One might incorporate their smoking habit into their personal set of gestures and way of speaking, assimilating the habit into their personality so to speak. Additionally, smoking a cigarette can be used as a tool to pass the time, or to give the illusion of having an activity. If a person is standing on a street corner, just looking around and/or staring off into space, you might think What is that person doing? But if that same person were instead smoking a cigarette, now they have an activity: Oh, that person is stopping to have a smoke. These and other examples make a strong argument for tobacco smoking as a social addiction, perhaps even moreso than a physical addiction.
Techniques employed by tobacco companies
Tobacco companies do attempt to encourage consumption at the youngest legally allowed ages. “Studies show that 80 to 90 percent of U.S. smokers took up the habit before age 20. (CQ Researcher) This however, is nothing more than strategic target-marketing, employed by makers of all sorts of products. If the law allows tobacco to be sold to eighteen year olds, then why would a company not try to aim their marketing in that direction?
Some tactics criticized have included promotional items that seemingly appeal more to teen-agers than to adults. The complaint is that the items also appeal to those below the national smoking age limit of eighteen years of age. High schools have been known to ban students from wearing items such as T-shirts, jackets, and caps that bear the names of tobacco products. Curiously enough though, there are still high schools that allow some section of their student body (presumably those who are of age) to smoke in designated areas on campus, although this practice has diminished over the years.
Most of the above issues pertain to smoking and its effects here in the United States of America. However, another perceived issue is that of our tobacco exports to foreign countries. Just like any other potentially hazardous substance, pesticides for example, there are opinions voice that there are moral implications connected to selling products overseas where the regulations may not be as strict. But again, as referenced in other substance’s cases, it is ultimately the responsibility of the importing country to know what they are taking on. In fact, it would make sense that our Unites States made cigarettes would be probably safer than cigarettes manufactured locally in the third world countries due to our stricter manufacturing standards and regulations.
The climate towards smoking in the United States is probably at its most negative since the habit was introduced to our shores. Advertisements for smoking cessation programs and products flood the airwaves. The amount of information available to consumers is at an all-time high. Why then do people continue to smoke?
It might have been easy in the past to implicate the tobacco companies for lack of information concerning the health risks, but that is hardly the case today. There have been increased requirements for warnings on the advertisements as well as the products themselves.
Health information available via print, broadcast media, and especially the surge in popularity of the Internet all adds up to a wealth of information available. It is still the responsibility of the consumer to weigh his or her own personal pros and cons of using a product. It cannot ever be assumed that any product available for legal purchase on the open market does not carry any risk along with it.
Ultimately, tobacco use is a decision made by the individual. Although there are a number of factors that influence the consumer, it is ultimately that individual s conscious decision whether or not to engage in the activity, as well as to determine to what extent they will participate. Benjamin Franklin is often attributed as having endorsed the philosophy All things in moderation. It can be argued that a substance and its manufacturers are not simply evil just by existing. The concepts of use and abuse must be considered. Individuals who smoke a pack ( 20 cigarettes) or more per day ought to ask themselves whether they are using or abusing the substance. Conversely, individuals who enjoy a cigarette or cigar only once in a while on special occasion might ask themselves if they are actually engaged in such a dangerous activity.
There are steps that the government can take to help save people from themselves , but only if and when the majority of the people can agree that those steps are necessary. For example, there have been major increases in regulations over the course of the last 35 or so years, starting most notably with the 1965 Labeling Act. It is not fair to hold the tobacco companies responsible for tobacco-related deaths anymore than it is fair to hold the alcoholic beverage companies responsible for drunk-driving fatalities. Juries have demonstrated this multiple times over in our court system. Assuming that jury selection is fair, then it could be argued that this is representative of American popular opinion in the matter.
In summary, when one takes the time to weigh the evidence, it becomes clear that the ultimate responsibility falls on the people as a whole to educate themselves and be enlightened with respect to what is or is not healthy. Although it is convenient to have a large, wealthy corporation to blame when things go wrong, ultimately people need to first learn to take advantage of the resources available to educate themselves about the products they consume, and then learn to take responsibility for their own choices and actions.
Barr, Bob. No: This Unprecedented Power Grab Will Subvert the U.S. Court System and the Economy. Insight Magazine. Vol. 15, No. 41. 8 Nov. 1999: 5-11.
Byrne, John A. Philip Morris: Inside America s Most Reviled Company. Business Week. 29 Nov. 1999: 177-192.
Center for Responsive Politics, 7 Jun. 1998: 1-3. HYPERLINK http://www.opensecrets.org/alerts/v4/tobaccowebchart_1.html http://www.opensecrets.org/alerts/v4/tobaccowebchart_1.html
Coltrain, J.B. Cigarette Taxes Contribute Billions. Tobacco Series 4: 1-2. HYPERLINK http://martin.ces.state.nc.us/newsletters/tob.series/tob4.html http://martin.ces.state.nc.us/newsletters/tob.series/tob4.html
Columbia University Trustees. Go Ask Alice!:Alcohol Related Deaths. HYPERLINK http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/0599.html http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/0599.html
Department of Justice Press Release. United States Sues Cigarette Companies to Recover Federal Healthcare Costs. 22 Sep. 1999: 1-3. HYPERLINK http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/1999/September/428civ.htm http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/1999/September/428civ.htm
Involuntary Smoking Airlines, Other Public Conveyances, and Federal Buildings. 2 Jan. 1997: 1-2. HYPERLINK http://www.cancer.org/tobacco/involuntary.html http://www.cancer.org/tobacco/involuntary.html
Lucas, C.E. Alcohol and Trauma. : 1-4. HYPERLINK http://rmstewart.uthscsa.edu/alcohol.html http://rmstewart.uthscsa.edu/alcohol.html
Recent Major Tobacco Trials. 14 Oct. 1999: 1-7. HYPERLINK http://tobacco.neu.edu/Upcoming.html http://tobacco.neu.edu/Upcoming.html
Smoking Legislation. 19 Feb. 1998: 1-3. HYPERLINK http://www.cancer.org/tobacco/legislation.html http://www.cancer.org/tobacco/legislation.html
Snell, William M., A. Blake Brown, and Russell W. Sutton. Tobacco Policy. : 1-8. HYPERLINK http://ianrwww.unl.edu/farmbill/tobacco.htm http://ianrwww.unl.edu/farmbill/tobacco.htm
Torry, Saundra and John Schwartz. Tobacco Foes Failed to Stoke Voters Fire. Washington Post. 8 Nov. 1998: A02.