Libertarians Ask: Why Is It Okay To Burn People and Not Tobacco?

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - The Libertarian Party on Monday labeled as "bizarre" a court verdict in Florida that awarded $145 billion in damages against big tobacco companies and another verdict that cleared the federal government of wrongdoing in the 1993 massacre against Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. The party believes the verdicts "suggest it's more acceptable to light a church on fire that it is to light up a cigarette."

"Does this make sense? 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 charges," Libertarian Party national director Steve Dasbach said in a statement in Washington.

Dasbach went on to say, "based on these verdicts, we can only say the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco And Firearms) is lucky it didn't toss packs of cigarettes at the Branch Davidians and encourage them to smoke because perhaps then it would have been slapped with a much deserved multi-billion dollar penalty."

On Friday, a Florida jury awarded up to 700,000 unnamed smokers $145 billion in punitive damages in a class action lawsuit, payable by America's four largest cigarette companies.

"And based on these verdicts, Phillip Morris may regret that it didn't ram the homes of smokers with tanks, pump them full of tear gas, and burn them to the ground because, perhaps then, it would have been found innocent of all charges," Dasbach said.

Also Friday, a Texas jury ruled that the federal government shared no responsibility for the death of 80 people in the fiery inferno that engulfed the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993.

"Good sense seems to have literally gone up in smoke. These verdicts seem to indicate that honest commerce is a crime if it involves unpopular products, and lethal paramilitary assaults by the government are perfectly acceptable. Both verdicts suggest the idea of personal responsibility being turned topsy-turvy," Dasbach said.

However, Dasbach said, members of the Libertarian Party respect the jury system and try not to second guess the decisions reached in fair and open trials.

"However, in both these cases, there is evidence that the presiding judges made questionable rulings that profoundly affected the outcome of the trials. 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 is reaffirmed," Dasbach said.

Attorneys in both cases plan to appeal the court rulings.