Jury finds Smoker 1/3 Responsible

According last week's Reuters article titled Florida jury awards $26.6 million to smoker's widow a "Florida jury ordered R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris on Wednesday to pay $26.6 million to the widow of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer". The article references a 2000 $145 billion judgment against tobacco companies that was overturned in 2006 by the Florida supreme court with the stipulation that individual cases could be tried against tobacco companies. Here is an excerpt from the piece:

The jury awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and divided the blame for Nathan Cohen's death equally at one-third for Altria Group unit Philip Morris, one third for Reynolds American unit R.J. Reynolds and one-third for Cohen himself. 
The panel also awarded $20 million in punitive damages, or $10 million for each of the two cigarette companies. That puts the total at $26.6 million, or $13.3 million for each company, if the verdict is upheld on appeal.

The idea that a jury felt that the smoker was one-third responsible for his own actions confounds me. On the surface it seems that this verdict is yet another example of blame-shifting on the part of smokers. Yet I wonder if the issue really goes to the idea that tobacco companies allegedly lace cigarettes with nicotine making them even more addictive? Even so it seems that people have known about the destructive affects of tobacco for a very long time and yet choose to smoke anyway.

I keep going back to the Thank You for Smoking movie and thinking about how strong the tobacco lobby is in DC. It seems that tobacco companies have definitely duped many people about their products and maybe enough so that lawsuits like this makes sense. I guess I am on the fence about these lawsuits - maybe the jury should have shared the responsibility equally between the individual and the industry?

What do you think? How would you have voted if you were on the jury?


  1. At this point, I don't care how strong the tobacco lobby is, if you don't know that smoking is bad, then you may be incapable of making any decisions. I think that what they should do is compromise. They should have somebody do a study to show various levels of awareness of smoking risks. A person that is 80 might have more of a law suit whereas a person that is 40 has no standing. Then, allow the jury to award whatever they feel, and the payout will be based on a percentage of jury award divided by the rate of awareness of risk to ability to quit.

  2. If I was on the jury I would have sued the widow for not stopping her husband from smoking in the first place and making a big hoopla about it. Husband goes to store, sees product and makes the purchase. Comes home and smokes. He dies, now its the manufacturers fault?

    Also goes close to the lines of the assualt weapons bans. Assault is a behavior, not a device. People dont want to talk about the true nature of any problem, its always someone or something elses fault. If anyone wants to see hard evidence of this study Britains crime rate after implementing the strictest gun control laws of any "free" country.

    Are tobacco companies at fault for the chemicals they put in their smokes? Sure, im betting there needs to be better regulation on a dangerous product, but the amounts of money these claims are filed for are a true indicator of what the real motive is....to cash out big time on someone elses dime. There are sick minded people these days who only think about how to sue someone. There are lawyers who put out commercials on tv asking people if they think they have a situation they could sue for.

    I got a great idea though for some cool cigs. I will call them "hope" smokes, or better yet..."barrys"

    Put the Obama logo on the package and sell them at his little functions. I would be the next tobacco barron. Heck, Obama would be my best customer! He still smokes! I wonder if Michelle Obama will sue if Barack gets cancer? She seems like a tough enough woman to stop him from smoking.

  3. In today's world you should know that if you smoke you are liable to get sick. The only way to have free will (choice) is for us to also take the consequences of our choices.

    I wouldn't have voted a dime.

  4. Bob,

    It would depend on who knew what when. Back in the day, cigarettes were promoted as not only not harmful, but downright health. The industry knew long before it was widely known just how dangerous and addictive cigarettes are. And, they don't exactly produce an all natural product. Nicotine levels have been engineered to get and keep people hooked and cigarette ads were targeted at vulnerable youth. The tobacco industry has done some downright evil stuff to promote a product they know kills. A legal product for sure. But, often promoted and engineered in an underhanded way.

    So, if I were on the jury, I'd have to have more facts about the age of the smoker, when he started smoking and what the common knowledge was at the time.

  5. I can't believe that in this country, which rapidly becoming not this country that anyone would think a smoker is not responsible. The Tobacco companies are not responsible! They have every right to sell a product (as long as it is legal) as anyone else.

    People choose to smoke. They choose not to smoke. It is as crazy as suing McDonald's for obesity.

    I started smoking when I was 16 because I wanted to. I stopped with no products, helps, classes, etc. when I was 23 because I wanted to quit.

    No, I don't work for a tobacco company. I just can't fathom a societ that can't take personal responsibility and always need to blame someone else for their choices.

  6. I tend to agree in whole with what you all are saying.

    Using Gregg's example I do wonder what the reaction would be if folks discovered that McDonald's special Big Mac sauce contained something that was addictive. Might change the game a bit?

  7. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances there is and the tobacco companies have known about that for years. I'm thrilled for people like Gregg who have been able to quit on their own. But, for every Gregg, there is more than one person who has tried and failed (and tried and failed again).

    It's not just a matter of personal responsibility. We are all products of our environments as well as personal choices (and genetics) as much as we might hate to admit that. When a company puts out a deliberately misleading message and/or manipulates a product by including an addictive substance that company should be held responsible. In the case of Big Macs, if McDonald's lied about the calorie count, that would, in my opinion be a case for a lawsuit. If McDonald's were adding extra fat to their beef, we'd have a right to know that. A few years ago they were putting beef tallow and a bunch of other stuff in their fry oil that didn't need to be there. Once people found out they demanded those things be removed. Consumers have a right to have information disclosed so that they can make informed choices. Then, their personal responsibility kicks in.

  8. Yes Brian, people should know what "they are getting into" by diligent research. Naturally, very few people look under each rock to see exactly what the product is, what it does, and will it kill me. I think companies should be held liable if they patently, directly, specifically, directly lie about their product.

    When I was buying cigarettes by the cartons, I knew that many brands suggested that I would be happy, fulfilled, taste good, love it, be the life of the party, etc. but I also knew that each cigarette contained tar, nicotine, additives that were harmful to my health.

    The Surgeon General placed a warning on my cigarettes. I find it inconceivable that people would really think they will be better people and that there was no risk involved if they smoked Marlboro, Winston, or Cools or etc.

    I hope that you aren't one of those who tried and failed repeatedly - I do not want to offend anyone. But I know, the people who "try" to quit, do just that - quitting isn't something you try, it is something that you committ to. Most people want it to be easy and comfortable. Well it isn't. We do want we want to do.

    As a pastor I have watched people die horribly deaths from cancer. I am not in favor of us all going out tonight and "smoke-em if you got-em."

    I just am tired of blame shifting, responsibility dodging - we have warning labels on everything that is produced. Government controls nearly every aspect of our life and still we die.

  9. I think Brian presented an important point. The smoker died in 1994 at age 68 which means he was born around 1926. It's likely he started smoking before the risks for cancer were well known or publicized. Some people can stop smoking but others can't. What's damning for the tobacco companies is that they purposefully manipulated nicotine levels to increase addiction, long after they knew cigarettes caused cancer (thought they didn't admit that fact publicly for decades).

    If a person started smoking *now*, I'd have a harder time justifying a jury reward. However, this particular suit represents the tail end of past problems.

  10. Here's how I see it: Yes, way back when many people started smoking NO ONE KNEW it was harmful. My dad was one of those. He finally quit when he had a lung removed. But when they said "you're dying" he started back up, why not?

    Then there are teenagers. Every teenager in the USA knows smoking is bad. Every single one. Does that make a difference? No way, bring on the Marlboro's! Smoking is still cool in school! AND once they decide they are done being cool and spending all that money they are addicted to it and can't quit.

    When my son got off heroin and was in rehab he was the ONLY one out of 90 people that did not smoke. He was proud of it, it made him stand out as different. But guess what - he smokes now. And even though it bothers me I rather have him doing that than drugs.

    Cigs are HIGHLY ADDICTIVE and kids are the ones getting hooked these days.

    So to me, yes, the tobacco companies do have a problem. Their product is addictive and dangerous. How do they sleep at night?

  11. Gregg,

    With respect, government doesn't control nearly all aspect of my life. The government is set up for the common good. I agree that often it overreaches in trying to protect us from ourselves. But, government should protect the weak from the strong. And in the case of a capitalistic society that also involves protecting the consumer from the corporation.

    Fortunately, I never got hooked on cigarettes. I played around with them a little. But, I know enough about myself to know if I had gotten addicted it would have been very difficult for me to quit.

    In the case of the tobacco industry, as I said, if I were on a jury it would depend on who knew what when. Today, there is little excuse to not know that cigarettes kill and tobacco companies lie. In an environment where doctors were promoting tobacco, news anchors smoked on the air and tobacco ads literally told you cigarettes were good for you, things were different. Put on top of that that the companies were adding more nicotine to their cigarettes (purposely addicting people) and the companies bear at least some responsibility, IMO.

    I still say tobacco should be legal and people should be allowed to smoke if they want. As long as the tobacco companies fully disclose what they are selling they bear no (legal) responsibility. It's not a business I could be in because I do think it's immoral to sell a product that does just about zero good and does a great deal of damage. But, adults should be able to make their own informed decisions about what they do with their bodies.


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