Why Did They Sue All Those Tobacco Companies? Hmmm!...

It never made much sense to me why the tobacco companies were the brunt of such vicious attacks and lawsuits. After all smokers are free to shorten their lives, aren't they? Are you afraid of second-hand smoke? I fart in its general direction. Do you smoke? Me neither. Do you hate smokers? Neither do I. So why did the tobacco companies get their pants sued off? Was the result of any benefit to you? No? Well, it must have benefited someone...

Oh, did it ever.

I've only smoked once in my life. I tried a barkey and then nearly coughed my lungs out. It was no fun. Tobacco is not to smoked. It is to be used as a medicine.

But something else is not be smoked either. Authoritarianism. It's much more deadly than tobacco ever thought of being.

During the national debate a few years back, when tobacco companies were the subject of each day's Two Minutes of Hate, I remember people claiming to be surprised that the tobacco companies had been lying when they said that tobacco didn't increase anyone's risk for cancer.

A gigantic class-action lawsuit against tobacco was a dry run for something much bigger.

I was about 8 or 10 years old when it first occurred to me that putting smoke in your lungs on a regular basis could end up killing you. So why would someone much older and smarter than I claim ignorance about such a basic fact?

To form the basis for a gigantic class-action lawsuit--that's why. And why would they want to have a successful lawsuit? The money? Yes, but that was purely secondary. It was a dry run for something much bigger.

Myles Allen of Oxford University told Reuters in 2006 that
If the evidence [of man-caused global warming] hardens up ... it has all the ingredients of the tobacco case"
It has thus far been very difficult to prove that anyone in particular has been guilty of causing global warming (partly because there has been no proof--only wishing and worrying--that mankind is having much of an affect at all). But since the success of the tobacco action, new vistas have been opened for adjudication in the area of climate change!!
Increasing the odds of an adverse event can be enough to make an entity liable for damages - as seen with tobacco companies. Class-action lawsuits against them have been underpinned by scientific evidence that smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer.

It is not possible to link any individual case of the disease to smoking because there are other causes too. Similarly, no particular climate event can be blamed on global warming, but now Allen and colleagues have shown they can calculate a change in risk.

The only difference, says Allen, is that the risk attached to smoking was calculated by comparing the fate of large numbers of people, some smokers, some not. The same statistical techniques cannot be applied directly to the climate because the Earth has only one climate system. They have to use simulated models to generate comparisons.
And simulate they will! It worked once with tobacco. And now, the sky (with all of its deadly man-made greenhouse gases) is the limit!


  1. You startinf to sound like a Democrat Frank!

    That means you will have a wonderful Christmas!

  2. Darn gloves, Ho, Ho, Ho!

  3. If that was meant to be a compliment, I thank you!

    My father was a Democrat and a great man. I became a Reagan republican at age 18. But the Republicans of today don't hold a candle to Reagan and the republicans of 20 years ago.

    There are a lot of good (great) Democrats. It's the bad ones, and the bad republicans, that I can't stomach.

  4. Hopefully you'll forgive the following stream of consciousness comment that was stimulated by your post.

    We sued tobacco companies because they harmed people. We knew (and they knew) there were negative health side effects of smoking. However, like any drug, I think some people really believed there were health or other benefits to smoking that outweighed the downsides.

    Looking at global warming, we can see positives and negatives of a warming globe. More people might die in heat waves, but more people might be saved from cold waves. Hard to say which will be better in balance.

    If it had turned out that tobacco had more health benefits than negative effects, could the tobacco companies have filed a reverse class action suit against smokers asking them to pay for the unexpected health benefits they had received? After all, those health benefits wouldn't have necessarily been calculated in the price paid for the product!

    If it turns out that global warming is a benefit to mankind and the environment, can companies file a reverse class action suit against the governments who put unnecessary regulations on them to slow the growth of global warming?

    I know the argument is silly. It just suddenly struck me as odd that we might punish people for negative effects of what they do, but we don't ever reward them for positive effects. Is that sort of imbalance appropriate? Maybe so, but it was food for thought.

  5. Bradley,

    Thank you for an interesting way of looking at it. You have a good point. I just wish that everyone could always be honest and point out (a) what we know we know, (b) what we know we don't know, and (c) when the other side of the issue has a good point.

    With global warming, the best I have been able to find is the IPCC report that with 90% certainty man is having an effect on the warming of the globe. There's a huge 10% uncertainty there. I actually wish those analyzing the IPCC report would be as honest as the IPCC is, to wit that we really don't know.


Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting. If you have a Google/Blogger account, to be apprised of ongoing comment activity on this article, please click the "Subscribe" link below.

Popular posts from this blog