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Fighting the Smoking Man - The Life and Thoughts of Zach — LiveJournal

Oct. 30th, 2003

12:40 pm - Fighting the Smoking Man

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Date:October 30th, 2003 05:29 pm (UTC)
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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[User Picture]
Date:October 30th, 2003 09:18 pm (UTC)
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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Date:October 31st, 2003 01:23 am (UTC)
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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