The only surprising thing about last week’s public clash between Gov. Kirk Fordice and Attorney General Mike Moore over Moore’s product liability lawsuit against the nation’s tobacco industry seeking health reimbursements on behalf of Mississippi’s taxpayers is that it took so long to go public.
Fordice claims Moore is grandstanding in a lawsuit he doesn’t have the authority to file, that the lawsuit will in some manner impede Mississippi’s ability to attract new industry, that Moore is using the lawsuit to pump money to trial lawyers, and that Moore is simply seeking national publicity.
Moore claims Fordice is protecting a national tobacco industry that pumped $6,000 into Fordice’s reelection campaign, that the governor doesn’ t care about the millions Mississippi taxpayers are spending on primarily unreimbursed medical care for treating tobacco-related illnesses and that it is Fordice the pro-business, anti-trial lawyer incumbent governor who is doing the grandstanding.
Pour the political gasoline of Moore’s status as the likely frontrunner in a 1999 Mississippi Democratic Party bid to reclaim the Governor’s Mansion on the fire and you’ve got an incendiary Mississippi mix of business vs. trial lawyers and Democrats vs. Republicans on a question of national import.
So, who’s right, who’s wrong and who’s grandstanding?
Moore makes a compelling argument that the taxpayers are underwriting the costs of medical care for smoking related illnesses caused most scientists and health care professionals have long believed by use of tobacco products. Moore argues that as asbestos manufacturers did a few years back, tobacco manufacturers should take responsibility for their products in the marketplace. Should Moore win the lawsuit along with other states who have sued on similar grounds and more states warming up in the legal bullpen the likely effect would be to catastrophically injure the tobacco companies, driving up the price of cigarettes and making two bold strokes against the use of tobacco in the future in that many tobacco companies would be left bankrupt by the lawsuits and the supply of cigarettes would be greatly reduced.
From the attorney general’s standpoint, the non-smoking taxpayer doesn’t get a vote in whether or not smokers choose to smoke but he gets a share of the health care bill for smokers just the same. The argument that tobacco companies are selling a product that causes or contributes to these illnesses is one that the American government has accepted for some 30 years.
More argues, then, for product liability on the part of tobacco companies.
Fordice argues against product liability and in favor of personal responsibility.
The governor suggests that no one’s holding a gun to a smoker’s head and forcing him to ingest tobacco. He argues that smokers are painfully aware of the risks of smoking and that the smoker, not the tobacco companies, is to blame for smoking related illnesses.
In his press conference announcing the suit against Moore, Fordice asked the question: “What’s next?”
He went on to point out that lots of products on the market are health hazards. And he’s right.
Red meat, butter and other high fat diet components lead to heart disease and strokes. Bullets and guns lead to Saturday night shootouts. Cars, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles kill folks every year. Laying out in the sun causes cancer. So, some suggest, does cellular phone usage. Booze can kill you. Stress. You name it.
Are we going to eventually get to the point in this country that we sue grocers for selling groceries to people who eat too much and keel over of a heart attack because they literally dug their graves with spoon?
Fordice asks, bald-faced, just where Moore plans to draw the line when the state of Mississippi asserts product liability? It’s a valid question.
And, it must be pointed out, it’s a question wholly consistent with Fordice’s philosophy of government. This isn’t Fordice’s first plunge into defense of a free market economy and or his first demand for personal responsibility.
I tend to agree with Fordice on this matter in that I don’t buy the notion that it is the cigarette companies’ fault that I’ve smoked for the last 15 years. Every pack I’ve bought carried a very clear Surgeon General’s warning telling me that the government believes I should know that smoking is hazardous to my health.
If I choose to ignore those warnings, the tobacco companies are no more to blame than my local grocer is when I eat too much red meat, ice cream or hoop cheese. They are no more to blame than if I drive my pickup 80 m.p.h. and have an accident.
The fault lies with me. Having said that, if Moore is interested in saving non-smoking taxpayers from having to share in my health care costs, then he should comprise a laundry list of illnesses and injuries that we aren’t going to expend public dollars treating.
Me, I don’t want to help pay the health care costs of folks hurt in sky-diving accidents or bungee jumpers who miscalculate. Some moron jumps out of a perfectly good airplane and whacks himself? Who do we sue then?
The logic in that thinking is obvious or rather, is not obvious.
On the question of grandstanding, it appears to me to be stalemate both Moore and Fordice have no real aversion of the television cameras.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist and editor of the Scott County Times in Forest.