The Redford government has launched a $10 billion lawsuit against tobacco companies for what appears to be two reasons:
1. To desperately try and find the funds required to pay for the massive spending promises Redford made in the last election.
The Alberta government has already reaped many billions of dollars in revenues from tobacco taxes over the years. This lawsuit is the equivalent of a drug pusher suing his supplier for the damage having been caused to his clients while he continues to push the product. The tobacco industry is so heavily regulated and taxed by the provincial government that the government is an outright partner in the distribution and sales of the product.
One common vapid defense for these kinds of lawsuits is claiming that people did not know that cigarettes were bad for them because tobacco companies so effectively hid the adverse health effects of smoking. Come on people, that is nothing less than a load of crap. People have known smoking is bad for them for nearly a century now and most were not so stupid as to fall for ads understating the risks from tobacco companies.
To prove my point I am thrilled to be be able to link to a piece by some of the most brilliant entertainers of our time. Yes, I am speaking of the Three Stooges of course.
In this episode, the stooges have won a large prize from the “Coffin Nail cigarette company” at about the five minute mark if you want to watch it. The term “coffin nails” being used as a slang term for cigarettes has clearly been around since at least 1938 as demonstrated by Larry, Curly and Moe. The origin of that term is of course because people knew that smoking tended to send people to an early grave thus cigarettes were compared to adding nails to the coffin.
While the full extent of health damages caused by tobacco may not have been known 80 years ago, it is pretty clear that nobody was under any illusion that there was not a health risk associated with smoking.
The above point is key because these lawsuits are predicated on the assumption that nobody really knew that smoking was bad for them until the 1980s or so. That assumption is simply not true.
The other flaw in these lawsuits is the calculation of apparent health costs due to smokers. The numbers being drawn up by anti-smoking activists and class action vultures like Redford’s ex-husband are brutally flawed. It has to be assumed that non-smokers will never get sick or die for the numbers to be correct with the alleged health costs due to smoking. Believe it or not, non-smokers can get chronic and expensive illnesses too. While it sounds unbelievable, I have to point out that non-smokers indeed do eventually die and often cost the healthcare system a great deal of money on their way out the door as well.
Most people use the vast majority of their healthcare consumption in the last couple decades of their lives. You can visit with some of the healthiest of people in their 70s and I assure you that they still will be able to draw you a long list of the medications that they are on, the procedures that they have had done and the very frequent schedule of visits to health professionals. I am not holding that against these people of course, but it does have to be faced that senior citizens are very expensive to care for health wise. Now it needs to be noted that seniors are not contributing income taxes and such as they used to as well and that many are drawing from government services such as OAS and subsidized care for decades.
In light of all of the above the case could be made in a very cold way that coupled with massive tax revenues to government, smoking may indeed actually save the public purse money in that it takes so many people out at a young age thus saving the costs associated with a 30 year retirement. It is indeed clear that the costs of smoking to governments are greatly exaggerated to say the least.
Now before the chorus of offended health zealots harms my virtual ears let me say that I do not see tobacco consumption in any amount is good for people or for society at large in any way. I am not advocating that people should die young in order to save the system money or that smoking does not still cost us all in lost productivity or even the emotional costs of seeing loved ones dying early due to health issues associated with smoking.
What I am saying is that we must stop being disingenuous in the efforts to demonize and sue a legal entity. Lets base this stuff on real facts before moving forward and lets start embracing some personal responsibility here.
I started smoking while young and only managed to quit a few years ago. I was never under the illusion for a moment that smoking was not bad for me. I did have that youthful “it will never happen to me” attitude but knew deep down that smoking was harming me. Since quitting I have packed on a fair degree of weight which is not a healthy thing either. Now regulating my diet and exercise is my responsibility as well but it should be pointed out that stopping people from smoking does not mean that they will immediately become healthy in every other way.
Governments ban all sorts of drugs, items and even simple pesticides based on those things being unhealthy to people. If the government really feels that smoking is so harmful, they really should ban the practice altogether. Will this lawsuit stop people from smoking? No! Again this legal action is nothing less than a corrupt and hypocritical money grab. Even after the suit government will continue to profit from the massive taxes levied on tobacco products.
Where indeed will this end? What other companies that are legally operating and following every government regulation may be sued for damages to people consuming their products? Will Sifto Salt be sued because people use too much salt? Over-consumption of salt is epidemic in North America and it is a proven killer so why not? Soft drinks? Meat packers? None of the aforementioned examples are unrealistic at all should the province win this lawsuit. How about ski hills? Orthopedic injuries cost a fortune in surgeries and lost productivity.
I guess we will simply have to watch and wait on this one. It is sad that government has to rely on shaky lawsuits to backstop their irresponsible spending.