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"I'm going to bed" huffs ASH spokeswoman on Five Live

I was on the Stephen Nolan Show on Five Live last night.

We were discussing the decision by an American court to order a tobacco company to pay the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer in 1996 $23.6 billion (£13.8bn).

In addition to this punitive fine, the wife was awarded $16.8m (£9.8m) in compensatory damages. (See RJ Reynolds told to pay wife of cancer victim $23.6bn, BBC News).

I described the decision as "absurd" and the money awarded "obscene".

I pointed out that no-one, least of all in America, could have been in any doubt about the health risks of smoking for 40 or 50 years at least.

In the Second World War (if not the First) cigarettes were called "coffin nails".

In 1964 the US Surgeon General published the first federal government report linking smoking and ill health, including lung cancer.

Around the same time America became the first country in the world to put health warnings on cigarette packets, which was the start of tobacco control initiatives in the USA.

I also made a point about personal responsibility. Should obese people be allowed to sue junk food manufacturers? Should alcoholics be allowed to sue drinks companies?

Putting the opposing view was Amanda Sandford of ASH. Amanda tends to get these graveyard shifts (10.20 on a Sunday night) and she sounded less than pleased.

At one point, in response to my suggestion that she should go to the Forest Facebook page and read what smokers have to say about the issue, she said she didn't care what smokers thought.

Bizarrely she huffed that she was "going to bed" as soon as the interview was over.

I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that on air before – least of all a professional lobbyist!

Stephen Nolan is an excellent broadcaster and did what he always does. If he isn't playing devil's advocate he astutely withdraws from the conversation and allows his guests to battle it out amongst themselves.

The result can be a little chaotic, especially if we end up talking over one another, but at its best it can be quite entertaining.

Amanda was keen to stress the addictive aspect of smoking so I asked her if alcoholics should sue drinks companies for their addiction.

She wriggled a bit – tobacco is a unique product etc – but eventually said individuals should make up their own mind.

How sad that a representative of a taxpayer-funded pressure group seems to think addiction is a matter for the courts and avaricious, ambulance chasing lawyers.

In their eyes consumers – smokers, alcoholics, the obese – are "victims". The concept of personal responsibility (or willpower) is anathema to them.

Anyway, we finished our contretemps and Nolan invited listeners to phone in with their opinions. The first agreed with me and I decided to quit while I was ahead.

Following Amanda'a splendid example (but without announcing it to the nation) I switched off the radio and went to bed.

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Reader Comments (4)

Her main point appeared to be that the tobacco companies had evidence of harm and did not publish it. My response is that's largely irrelevant when the Government obliged them to put health warnings on the packs and, secondly, the same accusation could be levelled at many other industries. For example, I'm sure the flour industry has evidence that high carbohydrate consumption can result in obesity and type 2 diabetes, but they wouldn't be expected to promote the idea. You got the upper hand by pointing out the alcohol industry could equally well be sued as some drinkers become alcoholics. I think that was when she decided bed was the best option.

I noticed that R5L had Stanton Glanz on very early on Saturday morning. I'm coming round to the view that the licence fee should be abolished.

Monday, July 21, 2014 at 13:54 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley
Monday, July 21, 2014 at 20:45 | Unregistered CommenterFredrik Eich

“Her main point appeared to be that the tobacco companies had evidence of harm and did not publish it.”

I suspect that she was trying to deflect things here – this argument was the one which was made (and accepted by the courts, which is why the tobacco company lost) in the big case in the early 1990s which resulted in the huge Master Settlement Agreement.

This latest case is different – and sets an extremely worrying precedent for any company in the USA, not just tobacco companies – in that it has established very clearly that all a plaintiff (or, in this case, his widow), now has to do is to convince the court that he is/was “addicted” to something in order to have a valid claim against the company which produces it. There was no negligence on the part of the tobacco company in this instance because the plaintiff was young (mid-30s) and thus could only have purchased cigarettes well after they were being sold with the requisite printed health warnings on each one. This wasn’t the case with the earlier court case, because the plaintiffs in that case were much older and had started smoking many decades earlier, in the days before health warnings.

Sandford’s thrashing attempts to conflate the two indicate that even she is wary about the wisdom or the fairness of this particular court decision, but can’t say so because of her ASH position, and so is trying to pretend the two are the same when this is not the case at all. Strange. ASH types don’t usually have to resort to such obvious tactics when they are posed with a dilemma of this kind; they’re usually much more slick than that. Aww, perhaps she was just tired and couldn’t come up with something more credible-sounding in her efforts to defend the indefensible …

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 3:06 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

One question for the antis.

Are ASH et all prepared to pay compensation to the families of those who have died as result of anti smoking laws and hysteria?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 11:21 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

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