This past Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that tobacco companies have to fund a campaign informing the public of their decades-long effort to deceive the public about the health effects of smoking.
I like to see the tobacco industry lose money because, as I remember Henry Waxman saying at a lecture at the Historic Sixth & I Synagogue, cigarettes are currently the only legal product sold in the United States that used as intended will lead to disease and death. However, one has to wonder whether or not this is an effective form of punitive or corrective damage.
First of all, why would the judge think that the tobacco companies would put the same advertising ingenuity into an anti-smoking campaign as they would in a campaign to boost sales?
Second of all, many smokers know that smoking is bad for them but either (a) do not care or (b) engage in a mental dissociation that allows them to see themselves as the exception to the rule. Consequently, one must wonder how effective such a campaign could even be.
However, most importantly, I believe that taxes are best when they seek to correct existing problems or inequities. For all practical purposes, this ruling creates a tax on the tobacco industry. The best use for funds from such a tax would be cancer research or medical care for those suffering from lung cancer, emphysema, etc. Even using a levy to contribute to Medicare could make sense--as a way of reducing the cost the state incurs by taking care of ex-smokers. The companies should be forced to clean up their own mess, not preach about cleanliness.