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Fighting the Smoking Man - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Oct. 30th, 2003

12:40 pm - Fighting the Smoking Man

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My position on Big Tobacco and government regulation/punishment thereof is being drawn out over in stuffedsheep29's journal where I seem to have fallen into a debate with swank76.

Here are a few excerpts of what I wrote:

That's not at all like Arby's catering to the fat-assed American consumers who like to eat a giant beef sandwich by creating "The Big Montana". It's also not unlike a car company creating another SUV that won't fit in a garage. How dare a company try to make a product that sells!

Well, personally, I think that the manufacture and marketting of gigantic SUVs and wildly unhealthy food products should also be regulated. I don't think that companies shouldn't have the right to sell cigarettes or that people shouldn't have the right to choose to smoke them. I do think that if a given product has a known negative public health impact that it should be regulated and that the producers have some responsibility to cooperate with efforts to minimize the public health impact.

We regulate where and how and when alcohol can be advertised and sold and consumed. We regulate just how bad for you alcohol can be (e.g. if it'll kill you, make you blind, or give you hallucinations it isn't legal). I don't know if it is illegal, but it is certainly considered socially unacceptable, for alcohol companies or bars to encourage binge drinking in their advertising. It is certainly illegal to market alcohol to minors. I expect that if marijuana were legalized it would be regulated in similar ways. I see no reason why cigarette companies shouldn't face some penalties for a) using additives that affect the delivery of nicotine without listing those additives b) marketting to children c) altering/faking/supressing scientific data that would suggest a need for heavier regulation of tobacco.

I'm all for letting people fuck themselves over. But they need to have accurate information. They need to be able to find out not only what the effects of nicotine are but what the effects of all the additives are. They need to be able to find out not just that cigarettes can cause cancer but that certain practices by the tobacco companies could reduce the risk. Without knowledge of these things the market can not do it's thing, consumers are manipulated and ultimately killed (rather than being allowed to kill themselves).


And this too:
These Socialist programs are unconstitutional and un-American. They stab at the heart of America.

I do agree that the settlements with the tobacco companies was a scam because I believe they don't do anything to change the underlying problems or to otherwise punish the industry. The settlements are a drop in the bucket and as structured actually serve to further brand recognition.

I believe this scam was not perpetrated by a bunch of hippies. I believe this scam was perpetrated by the politicians who were responsible for seeing the lawsuits through but who caved in to a settlement that was acceptable to the very criminals they were supposed to punish. A bunch of lawyers got rich, a bunch of politicans got to tell their constituents that they punished Big Tobacco, and the coziness between Big Tobacco and Big Politics remained intact. Everyone saved face and nothing changed.

Some stupid anti-smoking ads are not my agenda as a person who is opposed to the way Big Tobacco does business so since that's all we got out of the last round of lawsuits, I consider that a failure. I think most serious activists would feel the same way.

Really, stupid small scale liberal fights like this aren't the kind of thing I spend a lot of time caring about. I ally myself with them but I don't work on them. I see the problems with Big Tobacco as merely the most egregious of the problems with Big Business in general. It's just too damn big and has too much power to cheat the rules that exist for the public good. I'm fighting a bigger (and more doomed to failure) fight against the whole system and I'm glad some nambypamby liberals are fighting the little (easier to win occasionally) fights at the same time. They've got my support but I don't cry too much if they lose or cheer too much if they win.

Last I checked there was nothing in the Constition or the American tradition (a tradition rich with anti-corporate and socialist tendencies dating back to the founding fathers) elevating free market unregulated laissez-faire capitalism as the official state economic model.

Comments:

From:swank76
Date:October 30th, 2003 11:06 am (UTC)
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One could also argue that the Founding Fathers were exceedingly concerned with catering to the rich, it was just the agrarian rich. Land ownership was a requiremant to vote, which some took as a continuation of the anti-Semitic land requirements originated in Europe. Slave ownership was permisible in agricultural south and internal economic development was centered on being an agricultural powerhouse! One of the reasons why the Industrial Revolution so fundamentally changed America was the shift to a radically different way of life!

Did the Founding Fathers intend to officially endorse a hands-off economic model? No. A swirl of the magic 8-Ball would probably read "All Signs Point To Yes" if you are looking for an unofficial endorsement. That being said, I still find most of the "social engineering" programs spawned by the government (Social Security, Income Taxes, Welfare) to be extremely distasteful and ineffective.

communism
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 30th, 2003 11:14 am (UTC)
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Oh I wasn't trying to suggest that the founding fathers were a bunch of lefties. Rather, I beleive that this nation has ALWAYS had a tension between various political ideologies. Socialism, pacifism, progressivism, populism, anti-corporatism, and other such lefty ideologies are nothing new or foreign to the American Tradition. That all kinds of other ideologies are also part of the tradition simply confirms that central to the tradition is a diverse culture with lots of different approaches to the task of organizing society. This is my response to your attempts to label the views of my movement as Un-American. I'd say there's nothing more Un-American than labeling something as such, but then that's a sad part of the tradition as well.

Red-baiting is such a tired and boring tactic.
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From:swank76
Date:October 30th, 2003 11:26 am (UTC)
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True. America is a dynamic political entity. What I object to as Un-American is the beliefs of a small group who see the need to go beyond raising awareness of an issue and moving the masses to vote, I see the extremists (of both sides) who push forward with faulty data and a false claim of serving the people. I object to simply being told by a commercial, "Smoking is bad". Tell me why, let me make a choice and then let me suffer the consequences. Don't sue for money on "my behalf" for a bad choice I willingly made. Don't file a politically expedient but practically worthless lawsuit.

Un-American is the person lobbying to take away a merchant's right to run his establishment as he sees fit by allowing smoking. If the public truly does not want to be in that environemt, they won't frequent that establishment. Vote with your dollars, don't harm people trying to earn a buck in a legal and ethical manner.

I term these things "Communism" in a tongue-in-cheek manner. As a child of the 1980's, I remember the three greatest movie villains as Nazis, Ninjas and Commies. Calling someone a Nazi has entirely different connotations!
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 30th, 2003 11:33 am (UTC)
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I've addressed these issues in my other posts on the other journal, so I point there.
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From:swank76
Date:October 30th, 2003 11:37 am (UTC)
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Agreed. It's rare that one meets someone of an opposing viewpoint who is intelligent and articulate enough to talk about it.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 30th, 2003 11:40 am (UTC)

heh

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*bows to his worthy opponent and walks off stage*
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From:swank76
Date:October 30th, 2003 11:45 am (UTC)

Re: heh

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Odd question. I've heard you make refernces to a Co-op in C-U. What are you referring to?
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 30th, 2003 01:19 pm (UTC)

Re: heh

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Depending on context I'm either refering to The Common Ground Food Coop or the Community of Urbana-Champaign Housing Coop. I talk about the former more often than the latter.

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From:stuffedsheep29
Date:October 30th, 2003 01:35 pm (UTC)

Re: heh

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You know Sal, you and I both belonged to Common Ground at one point :)
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 30th, 2003 01:43 pm (UTC)

Re: heh

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I knew Sal was a closet commie underneath that hard libertarian exterior.
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From:swank76
Date:October 30th, 2003 01:50 pm (UTC)

Re: heh

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I'm full of surprises.
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From:khudirambose
Date:October 30th, 2003 12:02 pm (UTC)
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you make a lot of good points
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From:boannan
Date:October 30th, 2003 05:29 pm (UTC)
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OK. this makes me angry. Here's why:

The legal fight against Big Tobacco was something of a first in this country. The industry-wide conspiracy in tobacco went back decades, almost to the 1950s, with the big head honchos blatantly conspiring to keep the lethal nature of their product from the public (we all know this by now).

Individual people filed claims against Big Tobacco when evidence started coming in (despite the industry's efforts) indicating that this stuff could kill you. Big Tobacco slammed 'em all down by litigating them into the ground -- pouring money at the cases.

Plaintiffs' lawyers got smart, and they got organized (sound familiar?). They banded together and certified class actions in a ton of courts, demanded discovery, extracted boxes and boxes of incriminating documents -- and they won. _Billions_ of dollars in settlement money for each state and a finding of liability on the record that these guys lied. They went up against Big Tobacco's litigation machine, and they beat it. I think they undeniably spoke some truth to power. Where do you think all that information (essential to the operation of the market) about the bad effects of cigarettes got a lot of its press?

Dozens of lawyers and hundreds of people spent years of their lives carefully preparing for and trying those cases. They cared about it. It may be a stupid small scale liberal fight in some folks' eyes, but it was a noble battle in theirs. It might not be your fight, but I think the fighters deserve a little more respect than being called "nambypamby liberals."

all right, I'll stop defending my profession now.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 30th, 2003 09:18 pm (UTC)
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Ok. I'm an idiot. I didn't realize that they won judgements. I thought they all settled. I guess I'm confusing it with Microsoft.

I'm ALL FOR this fight.

I really really really have to take back and reformulate MUCH of what I have said if it is the case that the lawyers got actual judgements made rather than just settling. Somehow I had it in my head that a bunch of states attorneys backed out and settled just as happened with much of the Microsoft anti-trust case.

Saying "nambypamby liberals" was a rhetorical way to (a) forge a connection with the conservative that I was talking to and (b) establish that my politics are FAR to the left of "liberalism". I don't identify as a liberal. I like liberals. I often find myself allied with liberal causes. But I tend to fight different fights than liberals and sometimes I get very frustrated by the moderate liberal approach (other times I have to give that approach mad props because people use it to get results, to win battles, to do pragmatic things). They're "namby pamby" because they're not smashing the state...but whatever...I don't _actually_ expect _anyone_ to be out smashing the state. I just talk big because I'm overwhelmed by the corruption in the system.

So...at the end of the day, though. Besides billions of dollars worth of smack down, what is the change that has resulted from thi s? Is it just (and I'm not downplaying this, it's a victory in itself) an increase in public knowledge about the dangers? Has the industry changed the additives that they use or anything else about the formulation of their cigs? Is there greater regulation or oversight of the industry now?

Are the anti-smoking commercials sponsored by P-M part of the judgement? Or is that a voluntary thing they do? Is the independent anti-smoking advertising that is much higher quality paid for by a block grant from the tobacco companies as part of the judgement?

Did SOME part or SOME parties of SOME of the suits settle? Can I at least be mad at them?

Oh and please note that I am a HUGE proponent of the court system. Whether I'm wearing my anarchist hat, my liberal hat, my progressive hat, whatever....there are few things more important than our right to sue the fuckers who do us wrong. So you won't catch me on any "we're a sue happy nation, let's change that" bandwagon. Give me more judges, more access to the legal system for the average joe, and all that. Don't give me penalty limits or any of that.

No more political journalling in the heat of the moment for me.
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From:boannan
Date:October 31st, 2003 01:23 am (UTC)
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I think I have to back up and take off my law-student hat and clarify a few things:

The tobacco settlement that springs to most people's minds when they think of big tobacco was just that -- a settlement among all the states for over $200 billion (http://www.lawpublish.com/settle.html). So yes, this part of the big tobacco litigation was a settlement.

But a big part of why the tobacco companies were willing to settle was because of _judgments_ against them that had been won by plaintiffs' lawyers in the courts (examples at http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/tobacco/englerjfinaljudorder.pdf and http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/tobacco/pricepm32103jud.pdf). Resource-wise (we've been talking about this in our mass-torts class), there's no way that the Attorneys General of all 50 states would want to go to trial against the tobacco companies when issues of liability had already been litigated and determined.

So there are both settlements and judgments going on. You're welcome to be angry at those who settled! But I think the attorneys did as much as the legal system allowed. The entire industry hasn't been revolutionized, but the information about the bad effects of cigarettes is accessible and was heard in open court. The regulation battle has to be fought legislatively, I think.

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From:herbivorous
Date:October 30th, 2003 06:17 pm (UTC)

yup.

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Here's the deal:

If people consume it, then they have the right to know what is in it, and the right to the information that will allow them to make good choices.

Period. Paragraph.

This goes for prescription medication, food, tobacco, alcohol, dietary supplements, air, water, and media outlets.

If you want to stuff yourself full of McDonald's, smoke Camel Reds, or drink Drano, then you should be given free reign. But what I find entirely reprehensible is that MANY companies--chemical companies like Monsanto or Dow, tobacco companies, whatever--don't disclose ingredients.

Or, even worse, they introduce a new product to the general population with little or no research, then rigorously defend it as "safe". My biggest problem with GMO foods is the lack of research. That, and they're marketed by companies with a clear history of distortion of evidence, disregard for research, and flat-out lying. And I'm supposed to trust these multinational conglomerates? Sure. Right.

Tobacco companies in my eyes are disguisting. You wanna smoke? Great. Then smoke. But when a company adultrates a consumable product without telling the consumer, I think they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, punished on a social level, and subjected to whatever pressures necessary to get them to at least label their products.

But then I've been accused of being a worthless hippy before, so what do I know?
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 30th, 2003 09:19 pm (UTC)

Re: yup.

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Amen.

Criminal murder/man slaughter prosecution of corporations and their boards and CEOs is something I dream of seeing every day.
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From:mathuaerknedam
Date:October 30th, 2003 10:57 pm (UTC)
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> > These Socialist programs are unconstitutional and un-American.
> > They stab at the heart of America.
>
> Last I checked there was nothing in the Constition or the American
> tradition (a tradition rich with anti-corporate and socialist
> tendencies dating back to the founding fathers) elevating free
> market unregulated laissez-faire capitalism as the official state
> economic model.

Zach, while I think your statement is correct, I don't think it's a relevant reply. Strictly speaking, a government program isn't constitutional *unless* it's specifically allowed withing the constitution. Income tax, social security, and welfare. All unconstitutional. The value of these programs is up for debate, but the constitutionality isn't.

(Who'd have thought that Sal and I would have so much in common? :-)
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 30th, 2003 11:24 pm (UTC)
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I'll speak to welfare and social security later because they're complex and I'm feeling too ill to think, much less do some research. But it's hard to take your entire statement seriously when you have income tax on the list:

Article XVI.

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.


How can you claim that income tax is unconstitional when it has been IN THE CONSTITUTION since 1913?
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From:mathuaerknedam
Date:October 31st, 2003 12:51 am (UTC)
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How can I claim that? Laziness, primarily. To be honest, it's been several years since I was well versed in this, and can't really defend it well today. Maybe Sal can do better? I took "Income tax, social security, and welfare" from his sentence immediately preceding the one that you quoted, so he probably had something in mind.

However, despite your implication to the contrary, it is also a complex issue. Was the ratification of Amendment XVI legal? If so, what about Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution. (Which says that they can't directly tax my earnings. The Supreme Court said that AMendment XVI "did not change the constitutional limitations which forbid any direct taxation of individuals".

Short of principles, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
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From:mathuaerknedam
Date:October 30th, 2003 11:19 pm (UTC)
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There are many aspects to this issue that really irritate me.

One is that I can't trust either side to do good science.

Another is that my liberty and pursuit of happiness gets stolen so that I don't endanger my life.

Another that people don't distinguish between big-tobacco and the rest of the tobacco world. I agree that b-t has done horrible things, it's in their own memos. This does not reflect on snuff, cigar, or pipe tobacco manufacturers. It does not reflect on smokers. Personally, I believe the distinctions are blurred by the anti-tobacco propaganda.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 30th, 2003 11:25 pm (UTC)
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Last I checked, snuff, cigar, and pipe tobacco manufacturers were not part of any of the class action lawsuits in question.
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From:mathuaerknedam
Date:October 31st, 2003 12:04 am (UTC)
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No, they probably aren't. It's not that lawyers don't discriminate, it that the propaganda usually doesn't. Because the propaganda doesn't, public opinion doesn't.
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From:mathuaerknedam
Date:October 31st, 2003 12:05 am (UTC)
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I take it email replies is working again...
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