THE BLOG

Suing the Tobacco Industry? Smoke and Mirrors

03/15/2012 05:04 EDT | Updated 05/15/2012 05:12 EDT

It's pretty hard not to be sympathetic with anyone who has developed cancer or emphysema from smoking, and it's pretty hard not to be contemptuous of anyone who is suing the tobacco industry for their affliction.

Finally, a long-delayed class-action suit has reached the courts in Quebec, where a couple of million smokers are suing the tobacco industry (JTI-Macdonald Corp., Imperial Tobacco, and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges) for something like $27 billion.

The claim that tobacco companies have been negligent in warning of the dangers of cigarettes is, in itself, something of a smokescreen.

Can there be anyone in North America who is unaware of the dangers of smoking? I doubt it. As far back as I can remember, there've been warnings about smoking, even when there was limited concrete evidence of these dangers.

No matter the advanced age of a smoker, when that smoker was a kid he or she was likely told by parents not to smoke. Common sense (even un-common sense) dictated that filling your lungs with smoke could not be healthy.

But even ignoring that, for the last 40 or 50 years there's been abundant information that smoking can shorten your life in an extremely unpleasant way. At times, those uninterested in smoking statistics have wished they could escape the constant barrage of warnings and rules that restrict smoking.

For what it's worth, I have never smoked in my life. My reasons for never indulging hinge on the cost of cigarettes when I didn't have money, but more because even at a young age I saw the anguish of smokers when they didn't have a cigarette. I wanted no part of an addiction that would make me a slave.

That said, I was never an anti-smoker who resented those who did smoke in newsrooms, restaurants, or public places. It just wasn't for me.

By all accounts, smoking is a severe addiction, yet it is an addiction by choice -- there's no acceptable excuse for not knowing the health dangers of smoking.

So those two million people who now want the tobacco industry to pay compensation for their susceptibility do not have a valid case as far as I am concerned.

Where they do have a case is against the federal government which colluded with the tobacco industry in that knowing the health risks of tobacco, it not only condoned, profited from the weaknesses of those who purchase tobacco.

We all know that prohibition didn't work in preventing the sale of alcoholic beverages. But in okaying the sale of alcohol, we made the consumer of alcohol responsible for his behaviour if he drank too much.

Surely a tobacco user should bear some responsibility for the disease or affliction that hits him because he refused to stop smoking, or was so addicted that he (or she) hadn't the will or stamina to quit?

It used to be considered glamorous or fashionable to smoke. Hollywood has a lot on its conscience in this regard. But whether or not to smoke has always been an individual choice. In most of our lifetimes, there's been no doubt that it is a health risk.

So for those who want the tobacco companies to pay -- they don't deserve it. But kudos to smokers who says it was their choice, their responsibility, and blame no one but themselves for the consequences.