Friday, September 01, 2006

Big Tobacco Feeling Generous, Wants to Donate Another $250 Billion

Despite being on a smoking hiatus, I remain a tobacco apologist. While living in a world of Oscar Madisons might be nasty, brutish, and short, living in a world of Felix Ungers wouldn't be living at all.

With articles all over the web, it's hard to know where to start -- but the New York Times offers a relatively neutral interpretation.

BOSTON, Aug. 30 (AP) — The level of nicotine that smokers typically consume per cigarette has risen 10 percent in the past six years, making it harder to quit and easier to be addicted, said a report that the Massachusetts Department of Health released on Tuesday.

The study shows a steady increase in the amount of nicotine delivered to the smokers’ lungs regardless of brand, with overall yields increasing 10 percent.

Jack Shafer at Slate offers up a defense:

Yet serial liars aren't automatically guilty of every charge leveled against them. Even the tobacco company baddies, who took a wicked beating this week in the press, deserve a fair hearing before we hang them.

I suppose there's some possibility that the companies were accidentally increasing the nicotine content of their cigarettes due to perhaps new farming methods -- er, and accidentally engineering their filters to hide that fact from the testing machines (and only the federal testing machines).

Perhaps their lawyers will even be able to convince juries of this 5-15 years from now when a brand new set of class action lawsuits arise -- of the sort that previously resulted in a $246 billion settlement.

They will of course hope that conflicting data over the addictiveness of nicotine, and whether or not increasing the level of nicotine (secretly) made it harder for smokers to quit will earn sympathy from the jury (it seems to have worked on Jack Shafer). But I suspect the juries will focus a bit more on the cover-up and the likely reasons for the cover up.

Still, I thought it was awfully generous of them -- after having just recently gotten to a point where they might be able to put the past, and big lawsuits, behind them -- to offer up some brand new opportunities for future lawsuits.

There are perfectly honest and open ways to pander to our vices, and some companies do that. Hopefully they'll be able to capture a little more market share after the odd bankruptcy or two.

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