Who is to blame when smoking kills?
In 1997, the bereaved family filed a lawsuit against Philip Morris for the damage caused by smoking. In similar lawsuits in the past, Philip Morris - the Goliath of the industry - had never been defeated. The case, which started at a district court in Oregon, became “the trial of the century,” as it lasted for 10 years until reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, the court handed down its ruling in March 2009, saying that Philip Morris was liable for compensatory damages of $820,000 and punitive damages in the amount of $79.5 million. It was the largest such award paid by a tobacco company in history. The court said that Philip Morris made enormous ill-gotten gains by hiding the fact that smoking causes lung cancer and nicotine is addictive, which the company had discovered through its own research.
The number of lawsuits against tobacco companies grew in the United States in the 1990s with the emergence of whistle-blowers. Documents showing that cigarette companies covered up research confirming the hazardous effects of smoking were exposed. More than 1,000 lawsuits were filed. Smokers in Europe and Japan then began battling tobacco companies, too.
In a tobacco lawsuit in Korea, the court ruled for the first time that there is a considerable correlation between smoking and lung cancer, implying that cigarette companies are accountable for the damage and paving the way for more lawsuits. Is smoking an individual choice or the result of tobacco companies’ wrongdoings? The moment of truth will come soon.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Ko Dae-hoon