Opinion: Old sins (Cigarette producer R.J. Reynolds sued for $23 billion)

POSTED: 07/22/14 1:53 PM

Old sins have long shadows, or so the saying goes. Cigarette producer R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company found that out the hard way after a jury in the State of Florida awarded a widow whose chain-smoking husband died 18 years ago, $23 billion in damages.

We don’t think that the company will write that check this week – or anytime soon for that matter – but the verdict once more is a healthy blow to the reputation of Big Tobacco and its murderous products.

The claim is so high because it is for a so-called punitive claim. It is a punishment for causing damages. Next to these astronomical damages, Reynolds has to pay millions of dollars to survivors of the smoker. Those amounts serve as compensation for the man’s death.

The chain smoker’s widow went to court in 2008, claiming that the company had attempted to disguise how unhealthy and addictive tobacco products are. Her husband smoked since the age of 13 several packages of cigarettes per day until he died of lung cancer at the age of 36.

“He could not stop, he even smoked on the day he died,” his attorney said on Saturday, adding that Reynolds attempted to lure people into smoking with aggressive advertising campaigns that targeted amongst others also youngsters. The jury took the latter argument very seriously.

It is however too early for the perished chain smoker’s family to break out the champagne and to consider themselves rich. Reynold’s assistant director Raborny said that the company would appeal the verdict. With that much money at stake, this will not come as a surprise.

Reynolds will however not be able to repair the damages this verdict has inflicted on Big Tobacco’s already shaky reputation. On the other hand, who knows? Maybe this huge verdict will tempt spouses to urge their husbands to smoke even more.

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