- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

A lawsuit brought by 250,000 West Virginians seeks to have the tobacco industry provide health screening for people who have smoked a pack a day for at least five years.

I can't imagine these people intend to quit, and they are not sick now. This case is being tried in front of a jury, and it amazes me that the jurors can keep a straight face during the testimony. At a time when the country is living in fear of anthrax, you have to wonder about people abusing themselves with tar and nicotine and wanting special treatment for doing so.

It would be interesting to see the demographic information on the 250,000 plaintiffs. I would guess many were hoodwinked by their attorneys into signing up for tobacco Medicare. What they seem to be after is a system that allows them to smoke until the medical screening program tells them to quit. Is there any medical program that wouldn't tell them to quit immediately or be held responsible for their actions?

Let us hope the jury stops laughing in time to put this lawsuit to an end. It's the kind of thing that gives lawyers a bad name. I wonder how much the quarter of a million plaintiffs kicked in for this waste of the court's time. If the jury comes down in favor of the smokers, we are in for a rash of product lawsuits. I for one will be suing the red meat people for what they have done to my cholesterol levels. There is no warning label on my filet mignon, so how was I to know I was clogging up my arteries?

I am sure there are people who will want health screening for consuming too many dairy products. That bowl of ice cream every night before turning in has turned many of them into obese blimps. The nice thing about suing a company for health screening because of the damage its product has caused to your body is that you apparently can continue to consume the product. Is this kind of "having it both ways" mentality peculiar to just West Virginia, or is this another example of our "it's not my fault" culture?

Cigarette-makers still deny their products are defective, but they do say these smokers would be best served by quitting. It is hard to imagine after years of lawsuits against the tobacco companies that intelligent people would continue to smoke and then demand any kind of compensation for doing so. I wonder if they expect the doctor to say: "You're really in great shape, Mr. Jones. Keep sucking down that pack a day until I tell you otherwise." Meanwhile, no one is suing Colombia for providing us with all that cocaine.

Juries make me nervous. Ever since O.J. walked and people with 50 years of smoking behind them were awarded money, I have lost faith in my peers. I imagine the alcohol industry will be next on the list. We may end up with people who smoke and drink having two physicals a year. We will have a lungs-and-liver law protecting us from ourselves. We are living in a time where self-abuse is looked upon as someone else's fault. I didn't want to write this column, but the devil made me do it.

Dick Boland is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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