- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

At first sight the $145 billion tobacco settlement in Florida may seem good for our national health. But as a physician I feel the longterm

term ramifications will be just the opposite. Americans need to assume responsibility by taking charge of their own health. We need to stop suing ourselves to protect ourselves from ourselves. As an aside, after costs, lawyer fees, and the usual political tricks and legal shenanigans, the truly harmed will benefit little from this windfall.

There is a painful behavioral trend in this country to always blame someone else for our own bad behavior. The Surgeons General's Report in 1964 made the risks of smoking painfully clear. Many persons who read that report chose to stop smoking because of the 75 percent increased risk of dying at any age. Even before 1964, persons knew all too well the dangers of smoking.

Their parents knew smoking caused lung cancer as far back as the 1940s and 1950s. As a physician I have yet to meet one smoker who thinks it is good for his or her health. Since 1964 there have been millions of ads, commercials, books, articles, movies, speeches and warnings about cigarettes and tobacco.

As a society we smoke, drink, caffeinate, pop, inhale and inject drugs, and eat too much. But no matter what we do it is always the other guys' fault. We are always looking for the next entity to sue to justify our own outrageous behavior. Settlements like the above only encourage and promote further bad attitudes and activities. Not to mention that the settlement amount is probably unconstitutional because of being unreasonable under the law. Also who gets the money? There are no named beneficiaries other than the lawyers.

In California large sums of money from the previous government tobacco settlement have never made it to the bedside, convalescent hospitals, or homes of the truly injured. Currently in Los Angeles the politicians want to use tobacco money to defend the city in the Rampart police scandal. Naturally the money will once again be siphoned off to the lawyers.

Don't misunderstand. I dislike big tobacco and their arrogance as much as you do. But let us put the blame where it belongs on those who used their rights and freedom to choose to smoke. As grandma used to say, "You can't have it both ways."

If you choose for pleasure to jump out of an airplane without a parachute that is your right. But you can't sue the ground. Also let's not forget that every huge monetary settlement ultimately is paid for by we the consumers anyway.

Tobacco class-action lawsuits are a smoking gun aimed at our heads.

Michael A. Glueck, M.D., of Newport Beach, Calif., has written extensively on medical, medical-legal, disability and mental health reform issues.

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