NEWS FROM THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY
2600 Virginia Avenue, NW, Suite 100
Washington DC 20037
World Wide Web: http://www.LP.org
For release: July 18, 2000
For additional information:
George Getz, Press Secretary
Phone: (202) 333-0008 Ext. 222
The cigarette verdict and Waco
Is it OK to burn people but not tobacco
WASHINGTON, DC -- A bizarre pair of jury verdicts last Friday,
one awarding smokers $145 billion in damages, another clearing the
federal government of wrongdoing in the Waco massacre, suggest it's
more acceptable to light a church on fire than it is to light up a
cigarette, the Libertarian Party said today.
"Does this make sense?" asked the party's national director,
Steve Dasbach. "A group of companies selling a legal product to willing
adults is hit with the largest punitive damages in history, while a
federal agency that attacked a church with tanks is cleared of all
"Based on these verdicts, we can only say the federal
government is lucky it didn't toss packs of cigarettes at the Branch
Davidians and encourage them to smoke -- or else it might have been
slapped with a multi-billion-dollar penalty.
"And based on these verdicts, Philip Morris may regret it
didn't ram the homes of smokers with tanks, pump them full of tear gas,
and burn them to the ground -- or else it might have been found
innocent of all charges."
On Friday, a jury in Florida awarded up to 700,000 sick smokers
$145 billion in punitive damages in a class action lawsuit, payable by
the country's four largest cigarette companies. One of the plaintiffs,
a 44-year-old nurse, said she smoked because, "I had no idea there was
anything wrong with cigarettes at all."
The decision was applauded by the New York Times and the White
House -- even though a 1999 poll by ABC News found that, by a 60% to
34% majority, Americans don't think tobacco companies should be forced
to pay for smokers' illnesses.
On the same day, a jury in Texas ruled that the BATF and the
FBI shared no responsibility for the deaths of 80 people in the fiery
inferno that engulfed the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas seven
They reached that decision even though there was evidence that
the FBI had helped cause or spread the lethal fire by injecting
flammable tear gas into buildings, had no plan to fight any potential
fire, and had disobeyed orders not to demolish the compound for 48
In both cases, "Good sense seems to have gone up in smoke,"
"These verdicts indicate that honest commerce is a crime if it
involves unpopular products, and lethal paramilitary assaults by the
government are perfectly acceptable," he said. "Both verdicts suggest
the idea of personal responsibility has been turned topsy-turvy."
If the juries had applied the Libertarian concept of taking
responsibility for one's actions, very different verdicts would have
been reached, said Dasbach.
"In the tobacco case, Libertarians believe adults have the
right to smoke -- or to engage in other risky behavior -- but have the
responsibility to suffer the medical consequences that may arise from
those decisions," he said.
"In the Waco case, Libertarians believe law enforcement has an
obligation to protect innocent people from force or fraud -- but the
responsibility not to engage in reckless, dangerous paramilitary
assaults that put innocent people at risk."
Libertarians respect the jury system, and try not to second-
guess decisions reached in fair and open trials, said Dasbach.
"However, in both these cases, there is evidence that the
presiding judges made questionable rulings that profoundly affected the
outcome of the trials," he noted. "We can only hope that in the appeal
process -- either by a higher court or in the court of public opinion -
- - the traditional American notion of personal responsibility will be