When Paternalists Fall in Love With Greedy Lawyers

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) that resolved state lawsuits against the leading tobacco manufacturers. The occasion prompted attempts by the agreement's supporters to portray it as a great "public health" victory, as opposed to a government-backed conspiracy in restraint of trade that enriched trial lawyers, protected Big Tobacco from competition, and brought state treasuries more than $200 billion in found money, all at the expense of smokers, usually portrayed as victims of the companies that benefited from the deal. A good example of MSA boosterism was provided by syndicated columnist Marie Cocco, who opined that the public-spirited lawyers behind the deal have helped "save millions of lives and billions in health costs." Let's ignore the fact that discouraging people from smoking does not prevent deaths so much as delay them, and that increasing the ranks of longer-lived nonsmokers actually raises total spending on health care instead of reducing it. Is Cocco right to argue that the MSA "may well be the most significant advance in the campaign to curtail tobacco use since the 1964 surgeon general's report"? 

Cocco notes that per capita cigarette consumption has fallen by about 28 percent since the MSA was signed in 1998. That compares to a decline of about 22 percent in the previous decade. Cocco attributes the acceleration of the downward trend to the MSA's restrictions on cigarette advertising and promotion, which included bans on billboards and on merchandise embossed with cigarette logos. I am skeptical that advertising has such a powerful effect on total consumption of cigarettes (as opposed to brand share), and Cocco offers no evidence to back up her thesis.

Tellingly, Cocco fails to mention that during this same period state and local cigarette taxes were raised over and over again. The one aspect of the MSA than can most plausibly be credited with discouraging consumption, a price increase of about 45 cents a pack that the tobacco companies used to cover their payments to the states, pales in comparison with the increase in the average state cigarette tax, which rose from about 35 cents in 1998 to $1.19 this year. Meanwhile, smoking bans have proliferated throughout the country and become increasingly strict. Cocco notes this development, which had nothing to do with the MSA, but still clings to the notion that getting rid of Marlboro billboards and Joe Camel T-shirts deserves the lion's share of the credit for reducing cigarette consumption.

Predictably, Cocco wraps up her ode to the MSA by endorsing the notion that when legislatures fail to approve the policies she likes, the courts should do so instead:

There was no get-rich-quick scheme concocted by greedy lawyers that prompted the states to pursue Big Tobacco in court. The impetus was a failure of democracy, and the outcome has been both democratic and healthy.

I'm not sure why Cocco thinks replacing legislation debated and passed by elected representatives with back-room deals hammered out by self-interested trial lawyers enhances democracy. Isn't the usual lawmaking process bad enough?

Past reason coverage of the MSA herehere, here, and here.

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  • Naga Sadow||

    We must ban together people! How long before they start taxing lap dances?!

  • Naga Sadow||

    I totally fucked that quote up. Nevermind people.

  • ||

    Way to go Sullum, you're on your way to Balko-hood. I never would've even known this pin-headed woman's name, but now I will never forget.

    Thanks ever so much.

  • ||

    Ahh, the old "failure of democracy" line. That one never gets old.

  • No Name Guy||

    "There was no get-rich-quick scheme concocted by greedy lawyers that prompted the states to pursue Big Tobacco in court. The impetus was a failure of democracy, and the outcome has been both democratic and healthy."

    Scary...... Watch out. With Obama in charge, the nanny / trial lawyer cabal to shake down everyone who isn't of the favored class is only just getting underway.

  • ||

    I'm sure Jacob knows of this, but didn't the legislatures of Maryland and Mississippi pass legislation that changed the rules of evidence just for the tobacco lawsuits?

  • perilisk||

    "Let's ignore the fact that discouraging people from smoking does not prevent deaths so much as delay them"

    How is that different from anything that has ever saved the life of a mortal? Sort of a pointless and cheap shot, unlike the followup.

  • SIV||

    Don't you read the paper and watch the news?
    If so you will have learned:

    "Tobacco taxes aren't taxes they are a public health measure to discourage children from smoking. This isn't about raising revenue"

    "Big Tobacco paid the MSA out of their profits.
    Those lawyers were heros who stuck it to Big Tobacco."

    My favorite, pushed by the Democrat State legislature and media in North Carolina when they succesfully raised cigarette, candy (yes!), movie ticket and cable TV taxes over Republican opposition that they were not only raising taxes but doing so regressively on the backs of the poor.
    "These taxes only affect the rich."

  • SIV||

    libertymike,

    I thought that was the FLA legislature that passed a change in rules that only affected the MSA case and then immediately sunsetted (sp?).

  • ||

    SIV-

    If I recall correctly, I first read about it in Reason, the mag, back in 1996 or 1997. You may be right that Florida changed its rules of evidence, but I distinctly remeber Maryland because the then Speaker of the Maryland House was a long time crony of Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles. Angelos made his fortune as a trial lawyer and his firm was one of the rent seekers involved in the tobacco suits.

  • cunnivore||

    The impetus was a failure of democracy,

    ...in the same way that me not getting laid is a failure of evolution. This writer is like a dog beating the shit out of his dish because his owner doesn't feed him.

  • Paul||

    "save millions of lives and billions in health costs."

    That's bullshit on the face of that statement.

  • lefiti||

    Yes, we must all be free to get lung cancer, and the healthcare system will take care of us all!

    You fucking libtards make me sick.

  • Paul||

    The impetus was a failure of democracy, and the outcome has been both democratic and healthy.



    ?!!

    So...

    Ok... I...

    Hmm. Democracy failed, so we forced something through and the result was...democratic. This woman makes way more money than I do. I know it.

  • Paul||

    Yes, we must all be free to get lung cancer

    Fucking drug warriors.

  • StunnedGuy||

    "Let's ignore the fact that discouraging people from smoking does not prevent deaths so much as delay them..."

    What?

    This is like arguing against airport security because all of those 9/11 victims were gonna die eventually anyway.

  • economist||

    Lefiti, does being a troll ever become tiresome? Do you ever get tired of living under a bridge?

  • pac||

    Look at me! Look at me! The wingnuts are persecuting me!

  • ||

    First we had "market failure" as an excuse to expand government, now we have "democratic failure".

    Here's a big cluestick for you nimwit lawyers: THE WORLD AIN'T PERFECT! Deal with it and get on with your lives, and leave the us adults alone.

  • SIV||

    StunnedGuy,

    Smokers ,as a group, die earlier but most of them die old just like everybody else. Just not quite as old. Your individual mortality may vary.I think that French lady who made it to 130 y/o was smoking well past 100 if not right up to the end.

  • ||

    One of my grandmothers smoked 2-3 packs a day for the bulk of her adult life and she died at 93. Her three sisters, all smokers, beat 90. A widower of one of the three sisters, just turned 101. He quit smiking in his fifties. One of their sons, a non-smoker, died of a heart attack at 48. Go figure.

  • ||

    Stunned Guy-

    There are lots of other reasons, I agree, to argue against airport security. For starters, well.....some here might have an idea where I might go, but... not tonite.

  • Warty||

    All of us between 24-32 are now coo-koo for Cocoa Puffs after reading this post.

  • ||

    LOL, is there any such thing as a bottom feeding blood sucker attorney who isnt greedy? Thats too funny dude.

    jess
    http://www.privacy.de.tc

  • ||

    Agreed No Name Guy! That liberal illuminati the mongers of popularity so affectionately call OBAMA will soon show his face... and those who are not members of this illuminati... well just watch the news people.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    That liberal illuminati the mongers of popularity so affectionately call OBAMA will soon show his face

    All caps? Don't you mean "O.B.A.M.A."?

  • ||

    I love this issue, as support for these persecutions of smokers betrays a lack of understanding of both the prerogatives and responsibilities of liberty.

    I hate this issue, as it proves a majority of Americans want nothing to do with individual liberty.

  • Abdul||

    I like the "failure of democracy" line. Any outcome I don't like is a "failure of democracy."

    Why is there no law requiring Angelina Jolie to walk around naked all the time? Failure of democracy. Hopefully, courts will step in and correct it.

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    Any outcome I don't like is a "failure of democracy."

    Don't be ridiculous, Abdul. You don't have the right opinions.

  • Other Matt||

    He quit smiking in his fifties. One of their sons, a non-smoker, died of a heart attack at 48. Go figure.

    Secondhand smoke?

    ::ducking::

  • Other Matt||

    Why is there no law requiring Angelina Jolie to walk around naked all the time? Failure of democracy. Hopefully, courts will step in and correct it.

    We need to put the law up for a vote. Personally, I think it'll pass.

  • ||

    *lights up cigarette*
    "Dude, those things will take years off your life!"
    "Yeah, the shitty ones."

  • ||

    There was no get-rich-quick scheme concocted by greedy lawyers that prompted the states to pursue Big Tobacco in court. The impetus was a failure of democracy, and the outcome has been both democratic and healthy.

    Of course! Multi-millionaire plantiff's lawers Dickie Scruggs, Pete Angelos and John Edwards were just responding to the clarion call of a failing democracy and doing their part, ever so humbly, to rescue it from certain death. Patriots, one and all.

    Why, it's so obvious, even a shit-addled, idiot 2-bit columnist could see...oh wait.

    Never mind.

  • Zeb||

    I miss Joe Camel.

  • ||

    There was no get-rich-quick scheme concocted by greedy lawyers

    Which is why they all did it pro bono. Oh, wait, you say they got paid?

    Then I'm sure they accepted the same hourly rate as public defenders.

    What's that? They all took percentages of the settlement, and are now multi-millionaires?

    that prompted the states to pursue Big Tobacco in court.

    Let's not overlook all the wannbe-Governor state AGs who flogged this process along to advance their political ambitions.

    The assertion that this saves health costs is, I believe, false. TLTG*, but I remember reading that people who die from smoking-related illnesses tend to die relatively fast and cheap, once they get terminal. Since you incur the vast majority of your health costs in the last year or so of your life, this means that their lifetime health care costs are probably no greater, and perhaps less, than non-smokers.

    *Too Lazy To Google

  • Zeb||

    The smoke haters never seem to figure tobacco taxes into their calculations of the cost of smoking. How many billions go to the states from tobacco taxes every year? And how fucked would state budgets be if everyone suddenly stopped smoking?
    The funny (or annoyingly hypocritical) thing is that the more tobacco taxes get raised, the more dependent states will be on them and the less they can afford to have people respond to the pressure taxes put on them to stop smoking.

  • AZ injury lawyer||

    The impetus was a failure of democracy, and the outcome has been both democratic and healthy.

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