A Whatever reader has asked me to comment on this, in which a $145 billion judgment against several tobacco companies in a class action suit was reversed. The tone of the e-mail suggested my correspondent thinks that this overturning of the suit is a good thing; he suggested I entitle the entry: “Responsibility Upheld; Victimhood Suffers.”
I won’t be doing that. But I can’t say I can work up any sort of outrage against the decision being overturned. My general feeling about smokers has always been that everyone who started smoking after the inception of the Surgeon General’s warning on individual packs has really shaky ground to complain that they were mislead by the tobacco industry. When every pack sold in the US has a note on it that states explicitly that the product within is going to hurt you, the only people who have the legitimate claim that they didn’t know what they were getting into are the illiterate (and being nicotine addicts are the least of their problems).
More specifically, I’ve always thought anyone my age or younger should be totally banned from suggesting that they are anything less than entirely responsible for their own habit. I knew that cigarettes were bad for you almost before I knew what were cigarettes were; indeed, I can’t remember ever not knowing cigarettes were bad. People start smoking for lots of reasons, and they typically start before their brains are fully engaged on the repercussions of voluntarily starting an addictive habit. Be that as it may, let’s just say that anyone under the of age 40 in North America’s slate of excuses for starting smoking doesn’t include “I didn’t know it was bad.” I knew. They knew. We knew.
I am in fact fairly prejudicial about people who smoke, on a sliding scale. People who are over 40 who smoke, I pretty much give a pass. Everybody smoked before 1960. They gave cigarettes to pets. And so on. People between the age of 30 and 40 (i.e., “my age”) who smoke cause me to deduct between 10% to 30% off my initial impressions of their intelligence and common sense, depending. People between 20 and 30 who smoke I consider to be complete dumbasses until they prove themselves otherwise. Anyone who is under 20 and smoking should be thrown in a woodchipper, all the better to start again on the karmic wheel of rebirth, and hopefully this time they’ll be born with brain stems that connect.
Now, I would agree that the tobacco industry did a yeoman’s job of trying to convince young and all that smoking makes you alive with pleasure. But, you know, here’s the thing with that: Part of being a teenager, or at least part of being a teenager when I was growing up, was totally mistrusting everything an adult tried to sell you, ever, end of story. I always thought it was funny that cigarettes, of all products, managed to escape that particular injunction (bear in mind that I don’t think teenagers actually do mistrust everything adults try to sell them. Malls across the nation would collapse. But as a teen, you’re supposed to at least pretend). So, even while entirely agreeing that tobacco companies are evil and run by evil people who happily produce products that kill when used as directed, it still comes down to the person who lights up and sucks smoke into his or her lungs.
What I think we should do is what states and cities are doing, which is tax the Hell out of the vile little tubes, to pay for the uninsured joes who will inevitably stagger into the ERs with smoking-related heart attacks, strokes and whatnot. Insurance companies likewise should feel perfectly cool about jacking up the insurance rates of smokers so that when they do hack out their lungs at the end of a 30-year smoking career, they don’t overly burden the rest of us because of it. Social denigration? Groovy. Banning smoking everywhere but cold, windy sidewalks? Even better (I except bars. Because, honestly. You’re going to friggin’ drink. If you’re going to abuse your liver, you might as well abuse your lungs while you’re at it).
But as for suing the tobacco industry, well, I wouldn’t. Were I smoker and noticed one day that my lung capacity was clocking at about 30%, my first thought would not be How did this happen? And who can I sue? My first thought would be, Well, it’s here. I guess I should work on that will.