Call us irresponsible

By The SE Texas Record | Jul 18, 2009

With light cigarettes you have to smoke twice as many to do damage to your lungs, and to some that's a suable offense.

Sound like a macabre premise for sketch comedy? Actually, it's part of the rationale of a class-action lawsuit. Tobacco-bashing billionaire Texas attorneys Walter Umphrey and John Eddie Williams have teamed up with like-minded Thomas Thrash of Little Rock to terrorize the tobacco industry once again with the claim that light cigarettes are worse for terminally naïve smokers than the full-strength variety.

We're not making this up.

Umphrey, Williams and three other attorneys split $3.3 billion in fees "representing" Texas in a 1998 lawsuit against the tobacco industry. Thrash is best known for his 1996 command performance before Congress in defense of Rose Law Firm partner Hillary Clinton's Whitewater work. With the help of his two notorious anti-tobacconists from Texas, Thrash hopes to hit the justice jackpot too.

The consumer class action suit alleges that Philip Morris USA, Altria Group Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Reynolds American Inc. participated in a "scheme of deception." They seek economic damages for Arkansans who purchased "light" or "ultra-light" cigarettes from July 1, 2004, onward.

Cigarettes, of course, are a legal product, regulated by the federal government. The adverse consequences of overuse have been known to the general public for many decades. Cigarette packages have carried warning labels for decades. Light versions were introduced to offer smokers an alternative. And now tobacco companies are being sued for making the alternative available.

Sounds like a classic case of damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't.

The tobacco industry puts out lighter cigarettes and some smokers smoke more. The alcohol industry puts out weaker beverages and some drinkers drink more. The food industry puts out healthier snacks and some snackers snack more. The auto industry puts out safer vehicles and some drivers drive faster.

What's wrong with this picture? And whose fault is it anyway?

Could it be that Americans like to smoke, drink, eat and drive and that some people need to exercise self-restraint? Isn't that more sensible than blaming others for weaknesses and driving legitimate businesses into bankruptcy?

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