Light Cigarettes and Compensation

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Yesterday the Illinois Supreme Court overturned a $10.1 billion judgment against Altria in a class action lawsuit that accused the company of misleading smokers by labeling some of its cigarettes "light" or "low tar." Since those designations were specifically authorized by the Federal Trade Commission, the court said, they could not be the basis for damages under the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act, which exempts actions that are expressly permitted by state or federal law. Given that provision, it's amazing the case got as far as it did.

It's true that "light" cigarettes do not offer the health advantages that regulators and the tobacco companies originally hoped, because smokers tend to compensate for lower nicotine by smoking more intensely. But it was the FTC that established the machine-based method for measuring tar and nicotine delivery, and it's the FTC that continues to allow (indeed, require) advertising based on the official yields, even though it has long known about the issue of nicotine compensation. This lawsuit tried to convert a regulatory issue into a tort, in direct violation of a statute that plainly barred such a claim. However you feel about Altria, smoking, or "light" cigarettes, the state Supreme Court's decision is a victory for the rule of law.

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  1. You could say that people need to be accountable for their bad choices in life. Cigs are bad for you.

    Except, the whole idea of personal responsibility is absurd. We have got to go beyond this.

    Companies advertise and people do what the advertisers tell them to do, period. The companies are responsible so they should pay for the damage their products cause.

    If a product is bad for you it should not be legal, drugs are illegal, so too should ciggarets.

    We all pay for everyone’s health care thru taxes so we all have a say in the healthy choices we all must make.

  2. If 20% of Americans of population of 300,000 that is 60M. Assuming the cost is 100K per smoker for disease, purely hypothetical, that works out to $20,000 per every man woman and child. Your taxes pay for this. Since we all pay for others health choices, in order to save us all money, we all have a say thru government what those choices should be. We should sue all the companies and give a $20K rebate to all of us.

    We should not be allowed to let corporations us advertising to get us to make descisions with negative downstream effects on society.

  3. If 20% of Americans of population of 300,000 that is 60M. Assuming the cost is 100K per smoker for disease, purely hypothetical, that works out to $20,000 per every man woman and child. Your taxes pay for this. Since we all pay for others health choices, in order to save us all money, we all have a say thru government what those choices should be. We should sue all the companies and give a $20K rebate to all of us.

    So why not abolish programs which force us to subsidize the health choices of others (i.e. Medicare, etc.)? Smokers end up saving society money in the long-run. I’ll need to find the link to the JAMA study but, smokers generally are a net gain to society because of their unhealthy choices while drinkers are a net loss because of their unhealthy choices.

  4. Ah – so I smoke when I drink because I’m trying to help society!

    Does that mean banning smoking in bars actually makes us less healthy as a nation? šŸ™‚

  5. that works out to $20,000 per every man woman and child. Your taxes pay for this.

    Bullshit.

    At $1.25 tax per pack of cigarettes, and a 2-pack a day habit for 25 years, the math says the smoker pays all of that $20,000 already.

  6. We could just let people die who can’t afford treatment or health insurance.

    If we did that, advertising might not be quite so effective.

  7. “Companies advertise and people do what the advertisers tell them to do, period. The companies are responsible so they should pay for the damage their products cause.” – Juan

    Must get fit fast. Must master my own bodyweight. Must do push ups on living room floor with my shirt off.

  8. Companies advertise and people do what the advertisers tell them to do, period.

    By this claim, we all own every product we have ever seen an advertisement for. Which leads me to ask: Who the hell stole all my stuff?

  9. Companies advertise and people do what the advertisers tell them to do, period. The companies are responsible so they should pay for the damage their products cause.

    So THAT explains why I’ve been humping the carpet in my office. My coworkers were starting to wonder.

  10. I can’t get the entire article because I’m away from the University server right now… but here is the abstract. This was updated in 1995 by the Congressional Research Service, which showed an even bigger savings as cigarette taxes had increased.

    The taxes of sin. Do smokers and drinkers pay their way?
    W. G. Manning, E. B. Keeler, J. P. Newhouse, E. M. Sloss and J. Wasserman
    Department of Health Services Management and Policy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109.

    We estimate the lifetime, discounted costs that smokers and drinkers impose on others through collectively financed health insurance, pensions, disability insurance, group life insurance, fires, motor-vehicle accidents, and the criminal justice system. Although nonsmokers subsidize smokers’ medical care and group life insurance, smokers subsidize nonsmokers’ pensions and nursing home payments. On balance, smokers probably pay their way at the current level of excise taxes on cigarettes; but one may, nonetheless, wish to raise those taxes to reduce the number of adolescent smokers. In contrast, drinkers do not pay their way: current excise taxes on alcohol cover only about half the costs imposed on others.

  11. Personal responsibility is absurd!

    Ughh. Is it just me or are there more and more Juans out there? No man is an island but damn…

  12. LOL Juan. Nice chain-jerk. Love it.

    Ahh, those nasty activist judges just don’t allow the lawyers to get rich. There ought to be a law…

  13. Does that mean banning smoking in bars actually makes us less healthy as a nation?

    Less healthy, probably not… subject to higher taxes, maybe. The longer we all live, the more we collect on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. Keep giving me my alcohol, tobacco, and crappy diet, and I’m more than happy to unburden the rest of you with paying out my Social Security and Medicare costs. Smokers are really some of the most selfless people in society… ha.

  14. Juan…follow the watch…you are getting sleepy…sleepy…you will buy Marlboros and send Ed half your paycheck…you will drive a Nissan and mow Ed’s lawn…

  15. We all pay for everyone’s health care thru taxes …

    Aha. There’s the problem.

    Lets just stop doing that and let people do whatever they want!

    Ha ha! Just kidding! Of course we should all agree to pay for everyone’s health care then penalize everyone for doing anything that might make us have to …. um… pay for their health care.

  16. I’m pretty sure “Juan” is just “Jane” aka “Juanita.”

  17. “This lawsuit tried to convert a regulatory issue into a tort, in direct violation of a statute that plainly barred such a claim.”

    This sentence makes two claims. And both of them are wrong. I suspect that you didn’t actually read the opinion. I don’t blame you. The Illinois Supreme Court is not exactly renowned for its lucid communications.

    First, The lawsuit was not based on tort. It was, instead, based on the Illinois fraud statute. It had nothing to do with tort law. But, I suppose that throwing the word “tort” out there conjures up the connotations associated of those “evil trial lawyers” in a way that a fraud case does not.

    Second, to say that the statute plainly barred the claim is simply wrong. Even the justices who found for the defendant admitted that the statute barely barred the claim. The fraud statute in question has an exemption for actions that, despite otherise qualifying as “deceptive practices”, are “specifically authorized” by State or federal law. This whole case turned on the definition of “specifically authorized” and whether the FTC’s rather passive acceptance of the tobacco company’s actions constituted a specific authoriztion.

    I have no idea whether justice was served in this instance or not. The opinion is to poorly written that it is nearly impossible to parse out the legal issues. I do know, however, that this was a very close case on a highly technical point. Those who claim that the opinion is an obvious victory for the rule of law simply do not understand the rule of law.

  18. Maybe she’s Joe’s botched sex change.

  19. Fuck Madison county, Illinois

  20. duck duck,

    If by “rule of law” you mean “the arbitrary and capricious results of lawyers plying their trade”, well then sure.

  21. This lawsuit tried to convert a regulatory issue into a tort, in direct violation of a statute that plainly barred such a claim. However you feel about Altria, smoking, or “light” cigarettes, the state Supreme Court’s decision is a victory for the rule of law.

    But note that Altria had to pay legal costs for the discovery, depositions, hearings, trials, and appeals to “win” in SCOTUS.

    If a product is bad for you it should not be legal, drugs are illegal, so too should cigarettes.

    Because now that drugs have been illegal for decades no one uses them any more so there are no health effects, and no one gets sick because of adulterated drugs, and there isn’t any violence associated with illegal drug sales, and we don’t spend billions a year in the war on drugs. That offsets the zero tax revenue from a black market.

    Plus we save bundles because people in constant pain or who are barfing their cancer meds don’t really need relief.

  22. Hey, most of us who happen to live in Madison County IL and are not affiliated with the legal profession are pretty pissed off about the courts here too.

  23. Not only are those who smoke paying sin taxes, those who chose to drink alcohol are also. I would like to know where all of these taxes are going and how they are spent. Oh wait, they are for our own good so we mustn’t question our sin free uber lords.

  24. “So THAT explains why I’ve been humping the carpet in my office. My coworkers were starting to wonder.”

    Ha!!! Hilarious!

  25. Thanks duck, duck. I wasn’t sure what to think about this, but your comment seems like a good first cut. The details matter. I like to learn!

    If there was evidence that the cigarette companies acted inappropriately (eg, bribed, lied to) vis-a-vis the federal reg bodies involved, I would hope that there would be a commonlaw fraud claim for that, even if the statute does not extend that far. However, there is no reason to believe that this is relevant in the present case bcs I don’t see any allegations that the fed agency got played when they did whatever it is they did.

  26. Of course we should all agree to pay for everyone’s health care then penalize everyone for doing anything that might make us have to …. um… pay for their health care.

    Nice one! I think I’m going to keep this, it’s quotable.

  27. Yes, Warren, by “rule of law”, I do mean “the arbitrary and capricious results of lawyers plying their trade”. What else could it mean? But let me apply some of my arbiturary and capricious lawyer logic, here…

    (1) This case is a triumph of the rule of law.
    (2) The rule of law is an arbiturary and capricious result.
    (3) Therefore, this case is a triumph of arbituary and capricious result.

    Hmmmm, sounds like you wanted the plaintiffs to win…

  28. MAD magazine did a fantasy ad retrospective, my favorite being the doctor “Lung surgeons need steady hands. That’s why I smoke Camels.”

  29. Juan = Rabbit

    When I see a thread start off with comments by the likes of a “Juan” I can’t help but think of the rabbits hired for track meets to give the race a faster pace.

    Hit-an-run – what are you paying Juan to make these threads go?

  30. Juan = Rabbit

    When I see a thread start off with comments by the likes of a “Juan” I can’t help but think of the rabbits hired for track meets to give the race a faster pace.

    Hit-an-run – what are you paying Juan to make these threads go?

  31. Companies advertise and people do what the advertisers tell them to do, period.

    So since:

    • tobacco ads have been severely curtailed for a generation or so and
    • there aren’t any heroin/cocaine/etc. ads and
    • anti-smoking/anti-drug ads are ubiquitous

    then everyone has quit. Right?

  32. Aagh: Juan’s at his best from the beginning:

    Except, the whole idea of personal responsibility is absurd. We have got to go beyond this.

    Yeah, I want Juan to be responsible for my bad behavior. I am thinking that Juan, Juanita, whatever, is a prankster.

    Spanish names are no coincidence to this detective. Someone needs to put a pair of women’s panties on Julian’s head and make him confess something.

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