The announcement on June 20th that a settlement has been reached between the Attorneys General of states seeking payment for workers harmed by tobacco products, from the four cigarette manufacturers in the United States spoke glowingly of a $368.5 billion victory. What the report didn't say is how trivial this amount really is. It didn't mention that the companies could deduct the yearly payment from corporate taxes. It did not specify how the government would enforce the provision to reduce sales to teenagers. In fact, it was left to the tobacco companies to reduce their marketing to teenagers. Another fox watching the hen house!
Former Surgeon General Everett Koop and outgoing FDA Director David Kessler found the agreement deeply flawed. They noted with dismay the $2 billion annual limit on penalties that cigarette producers would pay if their anti-smoking efforts did not produce the agreed-upon reductions in teenage smoking. The industry was charged with reducing teenage smoking by 30% in five years, 50% in seven years, and 60% in 10 years. However, the most ludicrous part of the agreement is the provision that would allow the tobacco companies to recover as much as 75% of these fines on the basis of demonstrating good faith efforts. Two billion dollars calculates out to about eight cents per pack of cigarettes and three cents of this would be written off as a business expense. So even if the tobacco industry continued aggressive marketing to teenagers as they do today, the cost would only be five cents per pack. What a cop-out!
Of course this so-called agreement must still be ratified by both houses of Congress and finally signed off by the President. It is highly unlikely that our elected representatives, many of whom are on the dole from the tobacco industry, will do anything other than rubber stamp this silly compromise. But how can Congress pass a law that limits due process of those harmed by tobacco smoking over the years? This is particularly inappropriate since the Liggett Company, last March, admitted that they had been hiding knowledge of the adverse effects of tobacco in terms of its addiction and cancer-causing products, plus the fact that they had consciously marketed its products as vigorously as possible to teenagers as young as 14.
The cold hard facts are as follows. Both active and passive tobacco smoking costs lives. In all, more than 450,000 people die unnecessarily from the harmful effects of tobacco abuse each year. The addicting potential of tobacco is being enhanced by additives, even as the compromise is being negotiated and the tobacco industry has no intention of reducing its marketing to teenagers. Every day, 3,000 kids are seduced into the bondage of tobacco addiction to replace those who die each day of the tobacco-related diseases. This is why the prevalence of smoking is not going down in this country at all.
As a health care worker, I am astonished that anyone would compromise over issues of health and human rights pursuant of damages from an industry which has lied to Congress under oath and deceived the public, all for huge profits. Will reason prevail in government over these major issues? I have my opinion. Time will tell.
Thomas Petty, MD