Tags: Tobacco | Settlement | Not | Used | Against | Cancer

Tobacco Settlement Not Used Against Cancer

Friday, 08 April 2005 12:00 AM

I've never bought that. The summer I got out of law school, the summer after my father, a lifelong smoker, died of a heart attack at 54, one of the great old lawyers in Washington, Tommy Austern, for whom I was working before starting my clerkship, asked me if I would object to working with him on a tobacco case. We were both sitting there smoking. It would take me 10 years to quit.

I laughed. How could I sit there smoking, knowing it had contributed to my father's death, and refuse to represent them on principle? What principle would that be? The principle of always finding someone else to blame for your problems? The principle that we are responsible for nothing? As a kid, I had begged my father to quit after the famous surgeon general's report came out. My mother did, and he didn't. She's still alive, and he isn't.

When people have heart attacks, do we ask how many days a week they worked out? Whether they favored fast food or tofu? How many years they had been overweight? When they had their last physical? Does our sympathy for their condition depend on their answer?

It is natural, of course, to need some information that makes us feel safe from whatever has afflicted the next person – it couldn't happen to me because he started again. But the connection between lung cancer and smoking, Judy and I discovered, tends to go beyond causation to fault.

When Judy got sick, I went looking for the marches to sign up for and the ribbons to wear, and among the pink and the purple, the answer I kept hearing was that there was plenty of money coming from the cigarette settlement funds, and why shouldn't they pay?

The tobacco settlement refers to the $246 billion the tobacco companies agreed to pay to the states in 1998 over the next 25 years. Last year's payment alone was $20 billion, which was still not as much as the states wanted, since slightly fewer people are smoking, but even more important, more are buying no-name brands from non-participating manufacturers.

Now let me be clear, so no one can accuse me of any conflicts here: I picked the "wrong" side when I got out of law school and, as a lawyer, once you pick, you don't switch. While my role in tobacco litigation has been minuscule (the most I've ever done is give advice about American constitutional law to a Japanese tobacco company in a case wending its way through the Canadian courts), had I said no and become a plaintiff's lawyer, like some of my friends, I might not be working by the hour anymore, which is the way I practice law. I might have a nice wooden yacht, or my own plane.

More power to them. I can't pick horses or candidates, either. But the larger point is that if you think the tobacco settlement is doing anything to prevent cancer or cure it, you should think again. At best, it might be filling potholes or helping pay for highways, or keeping your taxes down. This is what infuriates me.

Last year, of the $20 billion, the states spent less that 3 percent on tobacco prevention – the other 97 percent went to everything else. If we're talking about addiction, the fact is that the states are addicted to BOTH the cigarette tax AND to the tobacco settlement money, both of which go straight to their general funds. The difference is now they need two fixes instead of one to balance their budgets.

The tobacco suit has nothing to do with lung cancer – it just provided the states a new source of revenue, strengthening their partnership with the tobacco companies, while providing some lawyers, particularly on the plaintiff's side, a very, very, very good return on their investments.

Judy hated whiners and victims. She believed so much in individual responsibility. Long before she got cancer, she railed against the tobacco settlement, predicting that the money would never be spent for its intended purposes. She never changed that view after she got sick. She only hoped that science would find better medicines in time for her. It didn't. Hopefully, Peter will be luckier.

COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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I've never bought that. The summer I got out of law school, the summer after my father, a lifelong smoker, died of a heart attack at 54, one of the great old lawyers in Washington, Tommy Austern, for whom I was working before starting my clerkship, asked me if I would...
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2005-00-08
Friday, 08 April 2005 12:00 AM
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