The risks associated with smoking are clear. Scientists have researched the effects and published studies linking smoking with many diseases and ailments, the Surgeon General has placed a label on every package of cigarettes, and there is an acknowledged addiction associated with nicotine. So if someone decides to start smoking in the year 2016, they are making a personal choice to ignore the risks and pick up a cigarette, cigar, pipe, or other tobacco product.
Fifty years ago, however, this information was not as available. Individuals became addicted to nicotine without full disclosure of the dangers. In fact, large cigarette manufacturers were trying to hide the evidence that smoking was addictive and could cause serious harm. They advertised the glamor, stress relief, and camaraderie of smoking all the while people were getting chained to the habit.
We recently joined with several lawyers to represent a family who lost their mother due to her nicotine addiction. She was a daily smoker since she was fourteen years old, waking up with the daily cigarette and then smoking roughly two packs a day until her death from lung cancer over fifty years later. We argued that she was addicted to the nicotine in the cigarettes and that the addiction took over her life. The representative for the tobacco company, R.J Reynolds, argued that she made a personal choice to smoke. But with the dangers knowingly hidden from the public by R.J. Reynolds fifty years ago, her children were able to find some justice in her death.
In this case, jurors awarded her children five million dollars in compensatory damages and found R.J. Reynolds liable for punitive damages. The total awarded was eleven and a half million dollars. While this doesn’t fill in the hole by the death of their mother, it does make sure that companies that deceive the public on the dangers of their products are held accountable.
We need these checks and balances in our society to make sure that companies operate at a level that values the human being. This is what we do.