Daniel Neal in his essay “Tobacco: Ignorance Is No Longer an Excuse” argues that long gone are the days when the dangers of tobacco were unknown to consumers. We are living at a time where public health officials have not only known the dangers of tobacco to a person, but have had extensive public education campaigns in order to inform both the smoking and non-smoking public about the dangers of tobacco on a person’s health. He does not believe that tobacco users who are harmed by the tobacco companies’ product should be able to pursue a tobacco company for damage. While I agree with Neal’s basic premise that people should not be able to sue tobacco companies for damages to their health, his essay exonerates the tobacco companies and graces over facts of tobacco companies less than ethic business practices, which include stealthy marketing campaigns to minors and attempts to make cigarettes more addictive. In general, as with alcohol, tobacco companies should not be held liable for the poor health choices of its customers, but for the companies that are found guilty of unethical marketing practices, should then be fair game for consumers to go after since they will be able to make the case that their tobacco use in the first case was not a free choice but a decision coerced by the tobacco companies. Just as consumers should be responsible for the products that they consume, tobacco companies should be liable for unethical practices that cause people to consume their product.
Neal begins his essay by saying that “Any individual who chooses to use tobacco today is making an informed decision” (163). In this case, there are few who would argue with this. Who, after all, does not know about the concrete dangers of consuming tobacco? Tobacco companies are enormous companies with huge profits into the billions of dollars. They have been the defendants of plenty of court cases in which consumers of their products, or survivors of those consumers, have sued and won for damages caused by their product. Some of these settlements have required tobacco companies to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on efforts to discourage tobacco use.
He points out though that this might have just the opposite effect of what is intended do to the fact that youth might be attracted to the dangerous. Under such arguing though, there seems not to be a viable solution. Not discouraging underage people from smoking and informing them might then make them unaware of the risks of tobacco and cause them to consume it, and discouraging them from using it, according to Neal’s way of thinking, will likewise have the effect of encouraging them to smoke. Here the thread of logic in the argument seems to be lost and his reasoning seems dubious.
He places the problem not on the tobacco companies but on dishonest retailers who are willing to sell tobacco products to minors illegally. Interesting, is he does not mention what in my experience is where most minors get tobacco, from their friends who are of age, or by stealing their parents or other adult’s cigarettes.
Neal quotes Elizabeth M. Whelan who discusses a limited immunity that tobacco companies have against future cases against them. He considers this to be a positive thing, since Neal wants tobacco companies to be off the hook and consumers to be responsible for their actions. But he wants to go one step further and prevent tobacco companies from having any liability for health damages from their product. He argues that the dangers of tobacco where still concealed by the tobacco companies, Whelan’s argument would be quite valid. He does not want tobacco companies be demonized and rather he wants “individuals who choose to use tobacco take personal responsibility for the damages caused by it.” He makes the point that alcohol is just as damaging as tobacco and similarly leads to death when it is abused. So if alcohol companies are not responsible for the damages their product causes consumers, why should tobacco companies not enjoy that same protection.
I agree with Neal that people should be responsible for their choices. Just as obese people with heart problems should not be able to sue fast food chains, and drinkers should not be able to sue bars or liquor companies, tobacco users should look inward and blame themselves for damages caused by the product. However, it is not as simple as this as tobacco companies have a long history of unethical business practices that seeks to get people addicted at an early age since studies have shown that if people start smoking before the age of 18 they are much more likely to become life long smokers who will continue to consume tobacco which will yield a profit for the tobacco companies.
Neal believes that children should be educated so that as adults they can make their own choices. But with an addictive product it is not so simple as decided. At a certain point a tobacco user becomes addicted to the substance and at this point the word choice does not really belong. I have had friends who have successfully quit smoking and they refer to it as the most difficult thing that they have ever done. I have read that quitting smoking is more difficult than quitting heroine. In the past tobacco companies have been found guilty of marketing to underage people, either in TV and movies and by making their product appear glamorous. If adult smokers find themselves with health problems and became addicted at a time when tobacco companies were using predator-like marketing strategies to target them, shouldn’t these individuals be able to sue tobacco companies.
Tobacco companies notorious denied that their products were even harmful, going so far as having doctors testify before congress that there was nothing dangerous about their products. I also recall reading or hearing about tobacco companies putting additives in their products to become more addictive. Even if tobacco companies are no longer doing these things, shouldn’t they be liable for the damages that they caused in the present from past unethical business practices?
Simply put, tobacco companies have a long track record of proving themselves untrustworthy. By setting a limit for how much in settlements a company pay out, they are setting an artificial boundary that tobacco companies know they will be free from lawsuits and will be more likely to continue unethical practices. For an industry that has been known for it’s blatant dishonesty, this creates a problem. Cases of damages should be decided on an individual basis in the court systems and just as consumers need to be responsible for their actions, tobacco companies should be held responsible for theirs.
Neal, Daniel “Tobacco: Ignorance Is NO Longer an Excuse.” Chapter 5, Using and Toulmin Model in Your Argument