From a 1960's Oregonian ad
The Oregonian has an editorial in today's paper entitled "A life up in smoke". The main point of the editorial is that Philip Morris owes a lot more than $168,514 for the death of Michelle Schwarz.
I couldn't find the editorial on their website, so I can't link to it. But, I'll quote it the old fashioned way by typing out the relevant parts--more than I would usually because I can't link to the full editorial. Here are the opening three paragraphs:
Michelle Schwartz of Salem might have 20 or 30 years ahead, if not for the cigarettes that killed her. The one-time nursing student and mother of two might be planning a Memorial Day barbecue right now, or tucking away special cards from Mother's Day, if cancer hadn't stopped her short at age 53.
Her life is worth more than $168,514.
Her killer shouldn't walk away on a technicality.
The technicality referred to is that the judge didn't give a full explanation to jurors about what they could and could not consider in awarding punitive damages. The Oregon Appeals court ruling was explained in an earlier Oregonian article on the case:
A divided Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday issued a split decision in a landmark tobacco lawsuit, upholding a jury award of $168,514 in compensatory damages against cigarette maker Philip Morris but reversing $100 million in punitive damages.
The ruling affirmed a Multnomah County jury's 2002 decision that Philip Morris fraudulently marketed low-tar cigarettes as a healthier alternative to ordinary smokes.
But a majority of the court also decided to send the question of punitive damages back for a new trial because the lower court failed to tell the jurors not to punish Philip Morris for conduct that hurt people in other states.
The Oregonian believes that Philip Morris should be heavily punished for its false advertising claims.
The closing sentences of The Oregonian's editorial:
Whatever the outcome, $168,514 isn't enough. Not for Michelle Schwarz, and not for any state where one industry's lies have caused so much pain.
Okay. But if Philip Morris owes, shouldn't purveyors of that advertising like The Oregonian who gained their own tidy profit from buying habits of those like Schwarz owe too? Schwarz would probably never have known about the false or unverified claims except for advertising carried by media like The Oregonian.
I don't know what the answer to just damages is. Two of my grandparents were heavy smokers and both died relatively young of causes that cigarette smoking is linked to. This is not a theoretical issue to me.
Still, I find The Oregonian's strong rhetoric strange coming from a publication that profits daily from advertising lots of products and activities that do not promote a safe and 100% healthy lifestyle--not to mention good reviews of movies, books, games, etc., that make those lifestyles look "cool".
Life is risky. We make choices. Some are good--some are not so good. While Schwarz and my grandparents knew that smoking was not good for them, they chose to continue. Certainly the nicotine addiction pulled them along. But, still they chose. Others quit. They didn't.
Are the tobacco companies without guilt? No. But, is the Oregon Lottery (and the people of Oregon who authorized it) without guilt for the lives ruined by gambling? No. There are bad consequences to a lot of money making ventures.
Life is more complicated than the finger pointing approach The Oregonian takes in this editorial. If Philip Morris is the "killer" here, media like The Oregonian has certainly been an accessory to the killing.