From the BBC:
This could only happen in a society with a justice system that has drifted so far from rationality and so far into the logic black hole of socialism that its judges decree that individuals who smoke are not responsible for their own deaths, and have essentially been ‘murdered’ by the people who produce cigarettes. That this argument is completely contradicted by simple facts of reality (i.e. cause and effect) is practically irrelevant when you can simply force others to act according to it – i.e. make a tobacco company hand over $23bn to the widow of someone who chose to smoke himself to death with the cigarettes they produce.
The truth is that tobacco companies violate no one’s person or property by producing cigarettes and therefore are innocent. Society may deem them irresponsible or exploitative, but they are not criminal organisations. Smoking is an unwise choice, from a health perspective, but it is a voluntary act and can be refrained from at any moment, which is why smokers are not victims of crime.
There is in fact no ‘case’ here at all. No injustice has occurred, there’s no wrong to write. And so all the U.S. ‘justice’ system has done is spend a great deal of time and money in order to ultimately declare innocent people who make cigarettes as ‘killers’ (or at least guilty of manslaughter), and a man who made an unwise choice as a ‘victim’.
Ayn Rand once wrote: “We can ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.”
The consequence of court rulings like this, which ignore reality, is that it gives smokers the further handicap (to quitting smoking) of a sense of victim hood. If smokers in general believe they are victims of the evil tobacco companies, and why wouldn’t they when the highest authority in the land says so, then they are less likely to quit smoking. This is because they are being led to believe that the root cause of their addiction is external to them and therefore beyond their control. “I can stop smoking because smoking is a choice I am making”, becomes “I can’t quit smoking because I can’t stop tobacco companies producing cigarettes”.
The tragic irony here is that judges who hand out punishments like this to tobacco companies almost certainly do so in the belief that they are helping the cause of smokers. Aside from achieving the very opposite of that, they also send out the message to smokers that some ‘good’ can come of their addiction in the form of massive payouts to them or their widows. The prospect of your wife and your children being ‘set for life’ as a result of receiving an enormous payout from a tobacco company can only increase the incentive to keep smoking.
In a stateless society, no insurance agency would take on a claim for compensation against a tobacco company on behalf of a smoker (or a smoker’s widow). As the claimant could have no reason or evidence to support their claim, to do so could only result in profit loss for the agency, and also reputation loss as a result of wasting people’s time. In this environment smokers (and their partners) would not find themselves being deluded into thinking they (or their partners) are victims and have any sort of claim for compensation against tobacco companies. That their smoking addiction is a result of their choices would be strongly reinforced by a society that behaved this way. Smokers would be left in no doubt as to whose responsibility their well-being is and therefore who has the power to help them quit.
Whilst the government attempts to forcefully eradicate smoking by robbing tobacco companies of large sums of money and handing it to smokers or the widows of dead smokers, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that the free market continues to peacefully provide numerous ways to help smokers quit, the most recent of which is the electronic cigarette or e-cigarette. At least one study suggests those who use them are twice as likely to quit as those who use nicotine patches and gum, which is impressive considering there seems to be good evidence that the latter have proven effective for some time now. Perhaps in time the higher value being placed on e-cigarettes will shrink the markets for nicotine patches, and perhaps even eliminate smoking itself. One thing is for sure, the only chance of that ever happening is through markets. Government action to help people quit smoking is doomed to fail because, unlike markets which naturally reduce the value of something by virtue of supplying something else that society values more, it can only ever attempt to force people to value smoking less by making it more expensive or cigarettes more scare. Trying to change what people value by force is to fundamentally fail to understand human nature.
To quote Ayn Rand again: “To deal with men by force is as impractical as to deal with nature by persuasion.”