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Home > CJ Ethics > Pt 2 Limits of Law  (examples)> Corporate Harm | Buy CJ Ethics

Corporate Harm and the Tobacco Industry

Usually, discussion of the limits of law only include discussions of 'victimless crimes' like drugs and prostitutions. Our concern in this section is that harms with real victims are not included as crimes. In this respect, the law is too limited in protecting people from threats by the wealthy and powerful. 

tobacco industry as global mass murderers


In the first reading, Jeffrey Reiman argues that the law is like a carnival mirror, reflecting back a magnified version of street crime, while shrinking the threats from wrongdoing by corporate and government elites. He goes on to show that wrongdoing by corporations is analogous to harms prohibited by criminal law. 

The next readings - by the Journal of the American Medical Association editors and by Gantz, et al - detail a long series of wrong doing by the tobacco industry. The cigarette paper detail the cigarette manufacturers' knowledge of harms caused by the product, and their knowing lies to the public. The cigarette paper are a major factor in recent lawsuits involving the liability of tobacco manufacturers for deaths to smokers, and for health costs that states have had to pay for people getting cancer from smoking. Notice that such suits are civil lawsuits to recover monetary damages, but do not involve the possibility of prison time - like a simple bar fight that ends with an assault charge. 

Companion website for The Rich Get Richer & the Poor Get Prison

Corporate Crime section of Paul's Justice Page  

Tobacco Control Archives with Frequently Asked Questions and links to original documents. 

Other Links to Tobacco Industry documents

Court TV: Tobacco On Trial

Read Gantz's book The Cigarette Papers online: "Written by experts with the scientific and legal knowledge to understand the meaning of the documents and explain their importance, The Cigarette Papers show that the tobacco industry's conduct has been more cynical and devious than even its harshest critics had suspected. For more than three decades the industry has internally acknowledged that smoking is addictive and that use of tobacco products causes disease and death. Despite this acknowledgment, the industry has engaged in a variety of tactics to deny its own findings and to convince the public that there is still doubt about the harmful effects of tobacco or that the effects have been exaggerated. These campaigns of disinformation have been designed to maintain company profits, to block government regulation, and to defeat lawsuits filed by individuals with tobacco-caused illnesses. The government and general public, as well as cigarette customers themselves, have been duped."

Surgeon General Favors Tobacco Ban: Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said yesterday that he supports the banning of tobacco products -- the first time that the government's top doctor and public health advocate has made such a strong statement about the historically contentious subject. Bush administration officials quickly distanced themselves from the comments, saying that they represented Carmona's views as a doctor rather than the position of the administration. But the comments yesterday also reflected how far medical, and to some extent public, views about tobacco have swung. While Carmona's comments were the most dramatic during yesterday's hearing, those in the room -- from conservative Republican lawmakers to liberal Democrats -- voiced a consensus that tobacco is a killer, is addictive, has sometimes been sold through questionable practices to consumers and has to be controlled. (Washington Post 4 June 2003; Page A01)

Surgeon General's statements and reports on tobacco (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)

Summary of Reiman's argument about harms that are analogous to crimes

A. Intent: The behavior of executives does not fall into the category of premeditated murder, but many actions are done with knowledge of, or reckless disregard for, the harms that might happen. Even in cases where the executives acted negligently, Reiman feels the act still falls within the scope of the criminal law and rather than a regulatory offense. 

B. Face to face crime might be worse because it inflicts more terror, but the basic issue is the injury done – for example that someone died. There is a difference between the way the two harms are inflicted, but not enough to make one a felony and the other a regulatory offense.

C. Legitimate productive activity: Some risks are inherent in legitimate productive activity, but society can protect people from unnecessary or excessive risk; it can protect workers from being beaten to make them work faster and it can protect children from exploitation involved in 'legitimate productive activity'. An executive who ignores these laws set up to protect innocent people commits a crime, even if he is engaged in legitimate productive activity. 

D. Free Consent: Many people do not know about the hazards in a workplace to freely consent to the dangers. There is also not equal power to negotiate, so the ‘free’ consent is problematic. The job market has barriers, glass ceilings and In some places there are few employment opportunities, further escalating the coercion to take a job.

Tobacco Control Resource Center and Tobacco Products Liability Project (Northeastern University School of Law)

University of Michigan Tobacco Research Network

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Smoking and Tobacco Control resources

Washington Post - news about tobacco

Joe Chemo: excellent list of anti-tobacco research and activism links

More Tobacco News & Links

As Congress prepares to debate campaign finance reform, tobacco policy presents one of the clearest examples of how campaign contributions have distorted the political process to protect special interests rather than the public interest. (Common Cause)

Bush Administration Tobacco Industry Ties (Corp Watch)

Kessler: Break Up Tobacco Industry : former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler says "No more Marlboro Man, no successors to Joe Camel, no more colorful packaging. Dismantling is the only appropriate way to handle an industry that has engaged in the greatest of conspiracies and, in the process, knowingly put the nation's health at risk."

Presidential Budget May End US Tobacco Suit

Tobacco Industry Wins Ad Victory The Supreme Court handed the tobacco industry a major victory over state efforts to restrict tobacco advertising, striking down Massachusetts regulations that would have banned such advertising near playgrounds and schools.

EU Accuses U.S. Tobacco Companies of Trading With Iraq, Terrorists (Center for Public Integrity): American tobacco companies have violated sanctions against Iraq for years by sending billions of cigarettes into the country, often with the aid of a terrorist organization, the European Union has alleged. The allegations, made in recent filings in U.S. District Court in New York, were the latest salvos in a civil racketeering lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris by the European Community and 10 member nations. The suit accused tobacco companies of running a global and decades-long cigarette smuggling operation that robbed national treasuries of billions of dollars in tax revenue and became a money-laundering vehicle for criminal organizations.

U.S. Seeks to Alter Anti-Tobacco Treaty: 'Reservations' Clause Sought as Way Out of Some Provisions (Washington Post) The United States told the World Health Organization this week that it is unlikely to sign the first treaty to curtail tobacco use worldwide unless the 171 nations that hammered out its language agree to a clause that would allow governments to opt out of any provision they find objectionable. The Bush administration says it needs the "reservations" clause to ensure that the United States could disregard treaty requirements it considered constitutionally questionable. But anti-tobacco activists and foreign diplomats say the demand is an attempt to water down the treaty to benefit tobacco companies or to unravel the agreement entirely.

More Information on Corporate Harm and Elite Deviance

It was probably inevitable that one day people would start suing McDonald's for making them fat. That day came this summer, when New York lawyer Samuel Hirsch filed several lawsuits against McDonald's, as well as four other fast-food companies, on the grounds that they had failed to adequately disclose the bad health effects of their menus. One of the suits involves a Bronx teenager who tips the scale at 400 pounds and whose mother, in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, said, "I always believed McDonald's food was healthy for my son." from Portion Distortion -- You Don't Know the Half of It (Washington Post)

Wall Street Sees Chance To Put Off Reforms: Pitt's Departure, GOP Win Prompt Go-Slow Sentiment (Washington Post 11/8/02)

Washington Awash in Talk of Money: The sweet smell of cash wafts across just about everything that happens in Beltway land. Politicians constantly worry about raising it and taking care of those who provide it, even as they publicly pledge to clean up the system (Washington Post)

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