Pundits, commentators and investment analysts are pondering the effects of last week’s federal jury verdict of $400,000 against Liggett & Meyers in the cigarette-cancer case. By concentrating solely on whether the victory will lead to many more successful cases against tobacco companies, they are missing an important consequence of that historic day in Newark, New Jersey — namely, the tremendous morale boost the case will give to anti-tobacco forces all over the country.
Events such as this tobacco lawsuit breakthrough, after 25 years of futile efforts in the courts by many plaintiffs, will not only induce more media attention to the whole spectrum of tobacco issues here and abroad. It will also galvanize many legislators in Congress and large numbers of public health groups into more intensive action.
About 100 bills are pending in Congress. Cong. Tom Luken (D-OH) is sponsoring legislation to permit the states to require more stringent warnings on cigarette packages — such as an addiction warning — than does the federal government. He wants to bring the Federal Trade Commission back into testing cigarettes and other tobacco-smoking or chewing products and release the nicotine and other brand name data to the public.
Other bills would increase excise taxes and restrict or ban cigarette advertising. The Canadian House of Commons has passed legislation to ban all tobacco advertising and promotion as part of a more vigorous federal smoking control policy.
The release of the latest annual Surgeon General’s Report on the addictiveness of nicotine, a past Surgeon General’s Report on the effect of tobacco smoke on non-smokers, especially children and people with lung ailments, and the airline smoking ban on flights under two hours are all contributing to growing pressure on the nation’s most gigantic drug dealers — the tobacco manufacturers.
Tobacco addiction results in the deaths of 320,000 Americans every year — almost 1000 per day. By comparison 4,000 Americans died last year from all the opiates. The latter products are illegal; the former — tobacco — will never by outlawed because a mere law would not be the right or effective way to help fifty million smokers rid themselves of this lethal habit.
The tobacco industry has diversified into many other corporate areas including food and soft drinks. It is making more money than ever before even though the percentage of smokers has dropped from about 34% of the population to 27% of the population during the last fifteen years. More automation and less tobacco are two explanations for this profit curve.
In addition, the tobacco industry is pushing its markets into heavily populated third world countries where many new victims await the insidious promotions the industry is devising, including directly at teenagers. About 90% of all smokers start smoking before they are twenty years of age.
The Smoking Control Advocacy Resource Center is open in Washington, DC (Suite 600, 1730 M Street, NW) as a national support system and communications network for the tobacco control movement. They have all kinds of ideas, contacts and a forthcoming guide for health advocates in this crucial area of disease-prevention. Write them or call Anne Marie O’Keefe at 202-659-8475.