Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Narc-peddlers at it again.

The Washington Post cyberspace edition dropped into Malcolm's in-box a few minutes ago. He was struck by the editorial: Big Tobacco, Lawless as Ever Profiting by manipulating addictions that kill.
This think-piece starts by recapitulating the Judge Gladys Kessler's 1740-page opinion in the US Government's recent action against Big Tobacco. The Judge took the whole smoke-and-mirrors operation apart. Give that girl a gold star!

Let it be remembered that that the companies were found guilty of lying, cheating and conspiracy (though that is Malcolm's non-lawyerly take): if anything, the charge is even more serious than that—the dope-peddlers violated the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Nota bene: racketeering. They are, of course, appealing the decision; and this thing will take on all the longevity of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Some of the issues in the case are already a decade-and-a-half old.

Then the editorial backtracks to the Post's account of the report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, already blogged here. This said, in effect, that the fagmakers had been saucing up the nocotine content, that is the addictive factor, especially in the brands chosen by trainee-smokers and Afro-Americans.

Next up, and the immediate provocation of today's editorial, is the companies' return to the Court to ask for clarification of the Judge's ban on terms like 'light' (preumably also its bastard sibling 'lite') and 'low-tar'. Anyone not a low-life lawyer might wonder, 'Which part of "Stop it!" do they not understand?' The companies are, at the same time, trying to weasel-word a way to allow any terms verboten for the US to continue to be acceptable for use abroad. After all, there are millions invested in the coining and dissemination of such lovely words, it would be a shame to let them die.

The Post describes this as
boundless rapaciousness ... If we can't continue to defraud Americans into killing themselves, they effectively asked, can we at least keep suggesting to billions of people abroad that some cigarettes are safer than others?
And it concludes:
the lawlessness of this industry will persist as long as federal policymakers refuse to pass meaningful regulation that defines clear rules under which this deadly product can be made and marketed.
Well said, that man!

Malcolm does not want to trivialize either issue, but he ponders on the relative body-counts in the 'war-on-terrorism' and the failure to control the tobacco megadeath. To illustrate, here are the 'behavioral' causes of death in the US, each year:
  • Illegal drugs: 20,000
  • Road accidents: 25,000
  • 'Sexual behavior' (!): 30,000
  • Guns: 35,000
  • Poisons: 60,000
  • Microbes: 90,000
  • Booze: 100,000
  • Eating habits: 300,000
  • Tobacco: 400,000.
Of course, it is not necessary to be a smoker to feature in that catalogue of murder and mayhem. In the US, 3,000 lung cancers deaths, and 150-300,ooo cases of children's chest infections occur each year because of 'passive smoking'.

Malcolm concludes his argument with the monetary cost of smoking. He dredged out of an underemployed brain-cell the July 2005 report on the cost of a whiff to the US economy: $92 billion for lost productivity, plus a further $75 billion for health-care.

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