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Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Tobacco wars: Is $3bn a fair damage award?

A jury in the US has ordered the tobacco company Philip Morris to pay more than $3bn to a smoker suffering from terminal cancer who said the company did not warn him of the dangers of smoking.

The payment is by far the largest punitive damage award ever made against a cigarette maker to an individual, and has sent shock waves through an industry already facing similar lawsuits.

The verdict is nearly 40 times larger than the $80m awarded an Oregon man in 1998, which was subsequently greatly reduced by a judge.

Is the $3bn payout justified?

Do you think that smokers are to blame for risking their health or should the tobacco companies pay compensation for the damaging effects of their product?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The award of a fine of $3bn was made by the court because an award in the "millions" would have no effect on the company and would not act as any deterrent in future. I am sure that the "victim" was aware of an effect on his body, however, was he fully aware of what gasses and toxins make up the average cigarette. In my experience, smokers know very little of the real effects of smoking. Perhaps the law should be changed to list all gasses and poisons contained and the amount, the same as foodstuffs in packets have to display food colouring etc contained within the relevant product.
David Butler, Australia

Any argument based on ignorance is spurious and a refusal to accept personal responsibility

Moez Qayyum, England
By now the effects of smoking are well known, and for at least the past 20 years there has been a consensus (with the exception of a few smoking industry sponsored studies) that smoking causes cancer and heart disease, etc. So to anyone still smoking, caveat emptor! Any argument based on ignorance is spurious and a refusal to accept personal responsibility, smokers to it to themselves.

That the tobacco industry uses massive advertising to persuade others to take up the habit should be no surprise, their business is to sell cigarettes, and as we all know they must constantly recruit new users; but until it is made illegal, a little less sanctimony from the government, which does very well indeed out of smoking would be nice. If they really cared about the effects of smoking, they would promote health education in the Third World where these companies are aggressively marketing their product. But then it is western governments' interest to shift the health burden elsewhere, whilst still taxing the profits of the tobacco companies. I am not a smoker!
Moez Qayyum, England

I don't smoke - it's my choice - just as it's everyone's choice - no one is ever forced to smoke. I agree with the point about using the billions awarded to highlight the dangers of smoking to the Third World, and perhaps ban tobacco advertisements completely?
Stephen, Wales, UK

Rather than attack the tobacco company (who are obviously going to do everything they can to sell their legal product) or the greedy smoker, why don't we put the blame for this ludicrous settlement where it rightly belongs? The jury who made such a ridiculous award.
Gill, UK

The link between smoking and cancer has been public knowledge for some thirty years. One might have sympathy for a cancer sufferer who started smoking before that time in ignorance of the risks but who then stopped when the dangers became known. However, to have continued smoking in wilful disregard for your health and then to sue the company providing you with the means of bringing about your own death is the action of a pathetic individual too weak to take control of his own life. I personally abhor both smoking and tobacco companies but the manufacture of cigarettes is not yet illegal and the smoking of them is not compulsory. If you gamble and lose - tough.
Pat, England

This award represents the death of common sense more than anything else

Stephen Kenney, USA
It makes a mockery of the jury trial system. We've had more than ample reason since the early 1960's to understand that smoking is hazardous. This case shouldn't have even been allowed to go to trial let alone grant such an award. This award represents the death of common sense more than anything else. When we start to award stupidity, there will be no end to the cost for there is no shortage of stupidity in the world.
Stephen Kenney, USA

It is ok to fine the company by such a large amount, but why should the first man who successfully sues, get all that money? Will there be any left for subsequent victims. Giving all that money to one man who abused his health is ludicrous, and shows the unfairness of our judicial system.
Andy Mitchell, UK

If smoking is so dangerous and so addictive that damages of $3billion are warranted then where do the governments stand who permit cigarette sales and who join in the profits from such sales? A touch of hypocrisy there, I would say!
David, Spain

I am a non-smoker and I personally cannot believe the ridiculous amount of compensation awarded in this case! How can anyone living in the USA claim to have been unaware of the risks of smoking? The man is still smoking now!!! The tobacco companies should be punished but now people are aware of the risks, it is up to them to quit.
Matt, UK

If a man who consciously smoked cigarettes can be awarded $3bn, it surely goes to show how much non-smokers could justifiably claim if they contracted tobacco-related cancers due to passive smoking.
Paul R, UK

The tobacco industry is pretty despicable but we need them

Malcolm McMahon, York, UK
The danger is that this kind of thing might lead to "back door" prohibition, making it impossible for a legal tobacco industry to continue to exist and leaving organised crime to take over. This would be a major disaster for the whole of our civil society. How to turn half of our population into criminals overnight. The tobacco industry is pretty despicable but we need them.
Malcolm McMahon, York, UK

The smoker is irrelevant to the punitive damages in this case. What is on trial is the behaviour over 50 years of tobacco companies who hid what they knew on the additive properties of nicotine and the risks to health, then cynically marketed their products to young and impressionable people to get them hooked. For that crime, no punishment is too severe.
Andy Millward, UK

Similar things have happened before. They'll appeal and probably win. Either way, will $3bn really stop what tobacco companies get up to. There is still too much money made by an industry that only causes suffering in the long run. If the money ever does get paid out, lets hope it's the end for the tobacco company. But don't pay out to one person, give it to health services to pay for smoking related health care.
James, UK

If the US can justify payments like this to someone who must have been on another planet to miss the health warnings, maybe I could sue the US for promoting greenhouse gases and destroying the environment I live in.
James P, UK

If this is what it takes to put big tobacco out of business, then yes its justified. These companies have made megabucks from selling a product which kills its users. They are peddling an addictive and harmful drug, and have consistently lied about the impact of smoking over many years. I hope that this is but the first of many such awards.
Eileen, UK

The money would be better spent promoting cigarette dangers in the Third World

Joanne, Netherlands (ex UK)
I do agree with the idea that those who smoked before warnings were made public about cigarettes should be compensated. But by all accounts this man smoked for several years after the warnings came to light. I can't believe that he managed to live in the health conscious state of California and not see or hear of the dangers of smoking. So in this case I don't think he deserves the payout. Certainly tobacco companies have a lot to answer for but to hand over to this man $3 billion is ridiculous. The money would be better spent promoting cigarette dangers in the Third World countries where the tobacco companies are selling their products without restrictions.
Joanne, Netherlands (ex UK)

In the last 24 hours I have drunk alcohol and coffee. I have taken antihistamine and I have eaten junk food with more fat and chemicals in it than I care to know about. I drive a car and play sport. All these things have risk attached to them, and I accept these risks in the knowledge that it is my choice. Cigarette manufacturers are not morally wrong in producing cigarettes any more than the producers of the products above are. Your choice is your responsibility and no one else's.
Tom, UK

I'm a 20-a-day smoker who fully realizes the risk. The lawyer who won this one for his client must be a genius! How can a bloke from the state that gave us airbags and catalytic converters, be unaware of the health risks? More to the point, how did the jury believe him? Total madness!
Alistair Currah, U.K.

Clearly appropriate. How could he possibly have known the risks? They were a closely guarded secret, known only to those capable of reading the large warnings on the side of every packet and across the bottom of every advertising hoarding. That said, I do enjoy seeing the big tobacco companies being given a kicking. They've been so underhand in so many ways that they deserve everything they get.
Guy Chapman, UK

I don't feel particularly sorry for the smokers or the tobacco companies. Any payouts should go to fund the additional burden on the health service and to compensate passive smokers, as they did not choose to smoke, but can still suffer.
Thomas Bailey, Russia

Something else that is too often overlooked is the fact that the cynical tobacco companies are now heavily promoting tobacco use in developing countries. They know that smoking is a proven major contributor to many forms of disease, but they are happy to boost profits by promoting their deadly product among the, as yet, ill-informed. This surely is institutional evil.
Dan Pattimore, UK

The only people who will get rich are the lawyers.

Philip, USA
Nothing to get excited about. It's just another California jury trying to break a world record. The State of California already has it's billions in tobacco judgements; they won't jeopardise their cash cow. The award will be reduced dramatically and the whole case appealed. The only people who will get rich are the lawyers on both sides who have several years more work. Great job security.
Philip Grebner, USA

This judgment is terrible. The ill effects of using tobacco have been known for at least 150 years. Long before warning ever went on packages, cigarettes were called "coffin nails" and "cancers sticks". To claim that one did not know the health risks involved is patently ridiculous. Furthermore, no one forced this man to start smoking. He did it of his own accord. Why then, should tobacco companies be punished for keeping a customer?
Joshua H., USA

The damage award is ludicrous in the extreme.

Bill, UK
Yes, the tobacco companies are wrong and yes smokers are foolish (and I'm one of them), but which ordinary persons life is worth 3 billion dollars? If war pensions ran at that level, every country in the world would be bankrupt. What ordinary working person could hope to amass that amount in ten lifetimes? The damage award is ludicrous in the extreme.
Bill Templeton, United Kingdom

Phillip Morris owes this poor legally duped man $1.00 in damages and perhaps a free ticket to a NASCAR race. The smoker has full personal responsibility for using a legal product at his own risk. This product that has a health warning, required by U.S. law, printed on each pack of cigarettes for the past some 35 years. No one has been lying to anyone; those that have continued to smoke bear the full brunt of the consequences for their actions, not the manufacturers.
John Groth, USA

Why give all that money to one man? Why not donate it to scientific research for the cure and prevention of cancer-if he is getting this much compensation, what do the victims of concentration camps deserve who were UNWILLINGLY put at risk?
David , UK

The ruling is unjust and the award stretches the boundaries of incredulity! Just as ignorance of the law is deemed as an invalid defence, how in heavens name can ignorance of the fact that "sticking burning leaves in your mouth and inhaling the fumes" has an associated health risk be deemed as a valid prosecution?
Ed, England

Speaking as a smoker, we know it might kill us.

Mat, UK
Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. You don't have to be a doctor! Speaking as a smoker, we know it might kill us but we do it anyway because we love it and that's the chance we take, if we are going to set a precedent of suing companies that sell products hazardous to health then we could just as easily be starting on McDonalds, General Motors, Nescafe, Budweiser, Nokia, Smirnoff, BP or perhaps even the BBC for their TV channels that can damage our eyes! Come on, we are all grown ups, you pay your money you take your choice. End of the story.
Mat, UK

I am a great believer in free will. Just because the tobacco companies make a product that is bad for you, doesn't make them morally evil. No one is placing the cigarettes into the mouths of smokers apart from the smokers themselves. The tobacco companies provide the product - but consumption is a personal choice. It's about time people started accepting responsibility for their own actions.
Dean, Uk

Yes, it is excessive. I have no sympathy with either the smoker or the company. If you are stupid enough to suck filthy smoke into your lungs, then your genes should be taken out of the gene pool as quickly as possible. But, OK, the guys dying. Is he dying BECAUSE he smokes? You can't prove that - smoking only increases the chance of catching cancer. Perhaps a token meal at McDonalds should be enough, and the tax on cigarettes should be increased 1000% each year until nobody can afford to smoke anymore!
Alain, England

Both parties are equally responsible.

CM, New Zealand
I think that both parties are equally responsible. The smoker is ultimately responsible for his or her own health, but multinational tobacco companies still refuse to accept that smoking is damaging to your health. In addition, the addictive element does take a certain amount of control away from the smoker and as I understand it, the addictive element is added; it's not a natural component of tobacco.
CM, New Zealand

I think if someone is clever enough to realise that they can go to court to get money from a tobacco company they are clever enough to realise that smoking kills. People who smoke make a sacrifice for pleasure. If someone jumps in front of a car to save a child from being run down does he sue the car company for making cars? It's silly the money could be better spent on a good cause!
Giffo, Scotland

I feel so sorry for all those tobacco firm chief executives and shareholders! After years of peddling a lethal product they've been caught. They are lucky to get away with a fine. It's just unfortunate they can't be tried for murder. The magnitude of the evil being carried out by these companies cannot and must not be underestimated. Blaming the individual smoker is ludicrous.
Spence, U.K

How about greedy self centred parasites in motor sport and elsewhere happy to take tobacco advertising money irrespective of the cost in human life terms? How about Governments around the world eager to take blood money from smokers in the form of ever increasing taxes? No wonder it is so difficult to get tobacco advertising banned!
Mike, UK

...squeeze them for every penny.

Sam, England
Of course the man knew smoking was bad for him and of course he should get the money. The only way to strike a decisive blow to the death merchants is to squeeze them for every penny they've ever earned. Just because tobbaco buisness is legal doesn't mean it's morally right. In Hitler's Germany the persecution and annihilation of Jews was legal. I say bankrupt the blighters.
Sam, England

It is not only excessive, it is wrong! What ever happened to personal responsibility? In the 1800s cigarettes were known as coffin nails. You hear that expression used in World War II movies, everyone with a brain knows tobacco is harmful. This all about lawyers attempting to drive a legal business out of business so they can make large amounts of money.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA

Although I believe that the tobacco companies should be held accountable, I think the size of this settlement makes a dangerous precedent. Court settlements have been skyrocketing out of control for years in the US, and the size the action will only drive them higher. As other industries feel the effects of this precedent, who will be able to afford the cost of doing business in the US?
Kyle, Canada

Just how much more warning does a smoker need?

Nanette, UK
I have just read through a selection of comments. Nobody has made the comment that if governments actively banned smoking; smokers would be up in arms about their "right" being violated. The tobacco company is right - this makes a travesty of the American system of justice. Just how much more warning does a smoker need?
Nanette Bray, UK

It's quite right that the tabacco industry is made to pay, but surely not to one single individual! It would be more fitting if this money were paid into cancer research. That way all of us might benefit.
Jamie, Germany

Although $3bn is far more than any one person needs to live on, the key point is that these are punitive damages. A tobacco giant would simply shrug off a fine in the order of millions, and then continue to do business in the way it always has. This is an industry that has suppressed research proving the dangers of smoking, and is making significant inroads in developing countries through aggressive and irresponsible marketing. The sooner they have to start paying some of their ill-gotten gains out the better.
John Kearney, UK

If anyone should be compensated it should be the victims of passive smoking

Miss Evans, UK
As far as I see it, smokers are all too aware of the dangers, but for some reason choose to ignore them. I believe payments of this kind to be completely unfair. If anyone should be compensated it should be the victims of passive smoking.
Miss Evans, UK

Smokers are wholly to be blamed for risking their health. Everyone knows that smoking is hazardous to health. Every tobacco advertisement comes with a warning message, even on the packs. The tobacco companies a abiding by the law. And in that case the law is to be blamed.
Mohammad Ali Asif, Saudi Arabia/ Pakistan

This sounds like a government conspiracy. Force a highly profitable company to pay a dying man $3 billion. Then with a 50% or so inheritance tax watch the US government collect upon the man's death. Of course the figure is over the top, it's incredibly irresponsible and risky to pay such sums to one individual.
Jack, UK

While I don't have a lot of sympathy for the tobacco company, I really can't see how this guy can claim he wasn't warned that smoking was bad for him. He claims that until the mid 90s he was unaware of the harm he was doing himself. Sounds pretty unlikely to me, unless he was on a desert island, with no TV, no newspapers and lots of cigarette machines.
Rob, UK

Anyone got a light? I want to get rich and never work again. And die early. What a ridiculous state of affairs - just as the American compensation culture couldn't get any worse, this happens! How long before the floods of claims start? So what's he going to do with his $3 billion? Sad.
Fraser, Essex, England

I am not a smoker but feel there are two sides to the argument. People who took up smoking in the last thirty years would have to be fools for saying they weren't aware of the dangers of smoking. But you have to wonder at the cigarette companies who still produce millions of cigarettes knowing the possible consequences of their product. If juries want to award squillions in damages give it to the health services who have to treat these people who become ill from cancer because of their smoking.
Peter Haslett, Australia

This is ludicrous. Where has this guy been living for the last 30 years? In a darkened room with cigarettes fed to him under the door so he couldn't read the warnings? Yes smoking is a "bad" thing, but so is a legal system that encourages "victim" culture to prosper. Its not impossible to give up smoking, people should take responsibility for their own actions. Finally, if the tobacco companies are so evil that $3bn punitive damages need to be awarded against them, how come tobacco isn't illegal? Oh yeah, it makes government too much money. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
David Evans, UK

What I question more is how can any country's government (in this case that of the US) justify allowing the continued open and legal sale of such a product after a verdict like this ?
Richard, UK

How much money can you say compensates for one life? No matter what the figure is though, these companies have made vast amounts of money from selling dangerous and addictive products for decades. It's time they started to pay out for the damage they cause.
Mark, UK

Cigarette companies have known for decades that their products were harmful to people's health. Suppressing this information they blithely continued to manufacture their products, marketing them as lifestyle enhancing items, and fashion accessories. If our governments won't ban the sale of tobacco products completely, despite the weight of medical opinion, then bankrupting them might be the only viable alternative. And what's $3 billion in punitive damages versus years of suffering under an addiction that slowly steals your life?
Barry OS, Ireland

Let's face it, the smoker will have died before a single cent ever got into his bank account. Even then the $3bn may never be paid as it will go through the appeal courts for a long time yet. But I think the amount is right as it points out that American tobacco companies can't play with people's lives by lying about the facts of their products when they knew they were not true - they should be severely punished for that mistake.
Josh, UK

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See also:

07 Jun 01 | Americas
US smoker wins billions in damages
15 Jul 00 | Americas
Smokers' $145bn court victory
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