The plaintiff’s theory–agreed to, mind you, by the trial court–was that
. . . the marketing of “light” cigarettes was a form of consumer fraud. Because the cigarettes have less tar, some smokers compensated for the lower quantity of tar in an individual cigarette by inhaling deeper, or smoking larger quantities. Thus, according to the trial court, Philip Morris deceived smokers into thinking the cigarettes were safer.
How strange, except that if the theory were widely accepted the plaintiff’s bar would have more work than they could handle until the end of the world. Economists have good evidence that seatbelts change drivers’ behavior a little for the worse. So should any devices–padded dashes, anti-lock brakes, airbags–that make drivers safer. “Child-proof” caps on medicines also seem to have made people less careful in storing drugs. And Kopel notes that the theory seems tailor-made to sue makers of low-calorie foods. If this theory of harm were accepted, all those companies and more–many more–would, I assume, be liable.
That the tobacco companies were sued for manufacturing and advertising a safer product is a good example of the perversity of modern tort law, and of the determination of anti-tobacco extremists to punish cigarette companies even when cigarette companies took affirmitive steps to reduce the dangers of smoking.
Previous commentary at Point of Law and links therein.