The Cigarette and the Damages Done


Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Philip Morris' last-ditch appeal in a case involving a former Marlboro smoker from California, Patricia Henley, who in 1999 won a jaw-dropping $51.5 million verdict against the cigarette maker. The award, $50 million of which was for punitive damages, eventually was reduced to $10.5 million, which with interest now stands at $16.7 million. Henley, who developed lung cancer after smoking for 35 years, is only the fourth plaintiff to receive compensatory damages from a tobacco company for injuries caused by smoking, and the first to receive punitive damages. As I wrote shortly after the verdict, it's not hard to see why the jury was mad at Philip Morris, but its decision ignored the plain fact that Henley chose to smoke even though she knew it was dangerous. No amount of hemming and hawing by tobacco executives about the health consequences of smoking could hide what has long been common knowledge.

NEXT: Nevermind the Bollocks

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  1. I have to agree. I smoked two packs a day for over 30 years and only quit when the doctor showed me than I had lost at least 25% of my lung capacity. This habit no doubt has taken several years off my life. But, I have no one to blame except myself! Even though I statrted to smoke before the government warning labels cigarettes were refered to as coffin nails and cancer sticks. The vast majority of us who smoked knew that it could cause health problems but ignored the warnings and continued to puff away.

    I do not understand the logic a jury uses to find a tobacco comp,any guilty when the product is
    legal to sell. Why not sue beef producers for the fat beed they sell that causes some people problems. How about suing the makers of jocky shorts because the continued use has made some men sterile-or so they claim. Maybe I should sue my parents for a genetic tendacy for baldness and bad eyes.

    It is not the tort system that is out of control it is the wacko illogical juries led on by tort lawyers. Picket a law school and save a business!

  2. It just serves to illustrate the effect of decades of liberal assault on the concept of individual responsibilty.

    If you try to hold inviduals responsible for the consequences of their own actions, you are “blaming the victim”.

  3. Maybe I should sue my parents for a genetic tendacy for baldness and bad eyes.

    I’ll take that case.

  4. How long have cigarettes been called “coffin nails”?

  5. when the product is legal to sell

    I predict smoking will be illegal within five years. This will be challenged by New York State, which will want to keep it legal in order to continue taxing the shit out of it.

  6. “It just serves to illustrate the effect of decades of liberal assault on the concept of individual responsibilty”

    Uh, maybe the tobacco companies also have an “individual repsonsibility” *not to lie* about the health consequences of their products and then to say “Well, you should never have believed us…”

    In short, while I believe there should be a defense that the consumer should have known about the dangers, I also think it is reasonable that companies that lied should be estopped from asserting that defense.

  7. Ken: I began smoking in the mid-1950’s and cigarettes were called coffin nails at that time.
    It was during the fifties that filtered cigarettes became popular. The tobacco companies didn’t really lie about filtered cigarettes even though they may have misled somewhat. A Winston probaby did not have the tar and nicotine contained in the non-filtered Camel but when I switched from Camels to Winstons I smoked twice as much.

    I do miss the old jokes about cigarette advertising. “Winston taste good like a prime minister should” and the Lucky Strike slogan of LSMFT which as kids we interpreted to mean “Loose Straps Mean Floppy Tits. And of course the tatooed Marlborough man. Can’t bum a Marborough unless you have a tattoo. Got a bear tattooed on my stomach. See? Its all faded away but its asshole. And so on.

  8. Thanks for the Neil Young reference. You rock.

  9. There’s just something about inhaling smoke into your lungs that seems unhealthy on any level.

  10. What is really unfair is that the tobacco companies are not allowed to introduce evidence on how smokers die earlier, saving the government seven years of social security payments. The seven years only work against the tobacco industry.

    Besides, the seven years that smoking takes off my life are not in my 20s or even 50s. I’m giving up the years where I’d otherwise be sitting in a puddle of my own (hopefully my own) urine viewing family and friends as strangers.

  11. I think the health warning label was added to cigarette packs in 1964. I think it would be hard to argue that a smoker was not fairly warned it is dangerous.

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