The Supreme court today (Tuesday), even as it did the right thing by throwing out a $79.5 million punitive damages against Philip Morris, sent the wrong message to smokers and to business in general.
The large sum of money, awarded by an Oregon jury and later validated by the Oregon Supreme Court, was awarded to the widow of a long-time smoker. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to negate the Oregon court ruling against the tobacco giant was based on their view that the jury in this case was not told that they could only assess damages that they felt were done by Phillip Morris to this one smoker — not to smokers in general. They obviously felt that $79 million was excessive award for an individual plaintiff.
What the Supreme Court did not say but should have said and what every cigarette smoker should realize is obvious (at least to me): any damage done to an individual by smoking cigarettes is the fault of no one except that individual. One penny awarded to an individual would be an excessive award!
I’ve smoked cigarettes for about 45 years, I smoke cigarettes because I’m addicted to them and, of course, because I enjoy smoking cigarettes. No one forced me to begin smoking — like almost everyone else, I saw people around me smoking, I tried it, I liked it and I continued doing it. If it kills me someday I have no one but myself to blame, will blame no one but myself and will not allow any law suits to be filed in my name.
Beyond all that we have the larger issue of freedom. Freedom means more than the right to speak your mind and to pursue your own ‘brand’ of happiness; freedom means you have the right to do whatever you want as long as what you choose to do does not have an adverse effect on anyone else, against their will. Unfortunately, the government feels that it has some God given right to protect us from ourselves — this type of lawsuit is an extension of that irrational thinking.
If, for example, I choose to drive my car recklessly, I’m endangering others and should be stopped and punished; if, however, I choose to drive my car without seat belts on or drive my motorcycle without a helmet on, etc., etc., it should be no one’s business but my own. If, as an extreme example, I choose to inject, inhale or otherwise consume some chemical or toxic waste in an attempt to end my life, I should have that right. My life is my life — it does not belong to the government, it does not belong to you! If there is an “after life” and if there is a price to be paid for my behavior, guess who’s paying that price (hint: not the government or you)?
I leave you with a quote from an essay by Jacob G. Hornberger. In this quote Hornberger explains the principles of Libertarianism as he learned then from the works of Ayn Rand and from the founder of The Foundation for Economic Education, Leonard Read. It should be a motto for all our lives:
“It is morally wrong to take what doesn’t belong to you. It is morally wrong to coercively interfere with the peaceful choices that people make in their lives. It is morally right that people be free to make whatever choices they wish so long as their conduct is peaceful, even if (or especially if) their choices are ‘considered’ irresponsible or immoral.”
Business Week: Court nixes award against Philip Morris
About Libertarianism: Libertarianism.Com
From the blogosphere on “smoker’s rights”:
Its Just Stuff: Workers’ Rights Vs. Smokers’ Rights
Utah County Real Estate Blog: Smoker’s Rights in South Salt Lake?