Not Lovin' It

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New at Reason: Jacob Sullum deserves a break from Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me.

NEXT: Thar Be Pirates!

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  1. people who started smoking in the 1950s were assured by no less a figure that Ronald Reagan that cigarettes are “never harsh on your throat.”

    True to an extent. It is morbidly hilarious to look back on pre-Surgeon General’s warning cigarette ads about how this or that brand is so smooth that doctors who smoke prefer it.

    However, sifting through the cultural ruins, you find contrary evidence as well. I remember a Sinclair Lewis book, written no later than the 1920s, in which the characters blithely refer to cigarettes as “cancer sticks,” “coffin nails,” etc. Even factoring in that many many more people saw the ads than read that particular book, this kind of context suggests it wasn’t a complete societal secret that cigarettes weren’t good for you.

  2. People know large amounts of ANY food is bad for one’s health – not just food sold by “Big Burger”. Joe, are you disapproving of the approvingly quoted legal doctrine, or merely pointing out it was used in a way in which “personal responsibilty” libertarians may not have agreed with when discussing another issue (smoking)?

    Did Reagan really say smokes are never harsh on your throat, or did he advertise for a certain brand that is never harsh? I’m looking for a good pack of smokes as I ran out a couple days ago and thought I might like to get some more.

  3. “this kind of context suggests it wasn’t a complete societal secret that cigarettes weren’t good for you.”

    Not to mention the sort of willful denial it takes to cough up lung cheese and not be able to run very far while simultaneously aruging that you had no idea that the things were bad for you.

  4. While I was not alive in the 1950’s, my parents were both born in 1930 and they claim, as do all their like-aged friends, that everyone knew cigarettes were bad for you and caused cancer.

    Anyone who doesn’t understand that lighting some leaves on fire and inhaling the smoke is a bad idea has got to be some kind of world-class moron. Almost as dumb as Joe, for instance.

  5. The tobacco suit had a little someting about the companies knowing the products were addictive, causing people to use large amounts of the product.

    An unbalanced diet with an excessinve amount of calaories will adversely affect my health? No shit, Spurlock.

  6. “No shit, Spurlock.” he he he he he.

    Tim, during the period when there was still an open question about cigarettes’ health effects and addictiveness, the companies that sold them spent a great deal of time and money suppressing the evidence they had on the matters, and telling the public things they knew to be untrue. The case for people not knowing cigarettes caused cancer is thus stronger, and the cause of that misunderstanding is rightly laid at the people who worked to maintain it.

    slacker, I point it out, because the supporters of the tobacco companies (including those at Reason) found a great deal of fault with this doctrine when it was used to rule against corporate defendants.

  7. Maybe someone can clarify, but didn’t they know even back in colonial days that smoking was bad for you? I thought I heard about a colonial governor who banned smoking, and this was a few hundred years before the idiot Bloomberg.

    Preaching to the choir, but all this prohibitionist nonsense is predicated on people being total morons. You eat greasy burgers all day, every day, and it’s bad for you? Jesus, let’s get Mensa to figure that one out.

    Question: is all this glowing attention to this film modern liberal bullshit? Or is it actually watchable? I’ve heard this guy is a lot easier to stomac then Moore.

  8. Actually, Joe, the principle on which Judge Sweet relied–that a company cannot be held liable for injuries resulting from risks that are a matter of common knowledge–was the most important reason why no plaintiff was able to collect a dime from the tobacco companies for more than four decades after the first suit was filed. The Restatement (Second) of Torts, published in 1965, explicitly cited tobacco as an example of a product that is dangerous but *not* defective because its hazards are commonly known:

    “?The article sold must be dangerous beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it, with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to its characteristics. Good whiskey is not unreasonably dangerous merely because it will make some people drunk, and is especially dangerous to alcoholics; but bad whiskey, containing a dangerous amount of fusel oil, is unreasonably dangerous. Good tobacco is not unreasonably dangerous merely because the effects of smoking may be harmful; but tobacco containing something like marijuana may be unreasonably dangerous. Good butter is not unreasonably dangerous merely because, if such be the case, it deposits cholesterol in the arteries and leads to heart attacks; but bad butter, contaminated with poisonous fish oil, is unreasonably dangerous.”

    Juries that in recent years have awarded damages to smokers were able to do so only by ignoring this doctrine. You’re right, though, that the dishonesty of the tobacco companies played a major role in this turnaround. I think jurors became so disgusted with the industry’s refusal to forthrightly admit the hazards of smoking that they were willing to ignore the law and use damage awards to express their outrage. My argument is that, whatever the companies said, they simply did not have the power to conceal risks that were a matter of common knowledge–certainly by the 1960s, arguably for hundreds of year. That applies to the addictive potential of tobacco as well as its health hazards.

    I’ve got a Chesterfield ad featuring Reagan above my desk, by the way. In this one he promises only “Chesterfield mildness and no unpleasant after-taste.”

  9. Jacob,

    You are one of the few philosophically rigorous individuals left at this enterprise.

    Thanks.

  10. Christ!

    Be a man and move on, already.

  11. It’s good to Reason include a piece on the movie that offers a more honest argument tha the “he’s a biased shill for fast food lawsuits” position, and engage nuanced arguments with nuanced arguments.

    The legal doctrine cited to throw out the lawsuits, and quoted approvingly by Sullum, is the same one that brought down Big Tobacco. I think that seems about right – people eating McDonalds know that large amounts of their food is bad for you, people who started smoking in the 1950s were assured by no less a figure that Ronald Reagan that cigarettes are “never harsh on your throat.”

  12. Very enlightening, Jacob. You’re saying that Big Tobacco had no liability for their misrepresentations, because the campaign to misrepresent ultimately failed, despite their best efforts.

    Still soundls pretty close to fraud to me.

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