Should tobacco companies held responsible for smoking-related illnesses and deaths?

Should tobacco companies held responsible for smoking-related illnesses and deaths?


Smoking is harmful for health, almost everyone knows about this fact; but the smokers are not at all bothered. Smoking is a choice: no one forces people to smoke. The general public has been well educated about the health risks and hazards of smoking, so people who smoke are fully informed about the possible consequences of their habit. Despite of knowing the hazards of smoking, people get addicted towards cigarettes; and the tobacco companies are to be blamed for this addiction. Quitting smoking requires strong willpower and using the resources that are available, such as nicotine replacement therapies[1].

The government acts as a ‘hypocritical fiscal middleman’ between the tobacco industry and the consumer, deriving huge profit from the tobacco excise[2].  Tobacco companies use superficial and convincing marketing strategies to promote their product. The individual is not to be blamed for responding to these messages and becoming hopelessly addicted to tobacco. Tobacco companies, not the smoker, should be held responsible if smoking results in disease and death. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance, and quitting it is a struggle for most smokers. The government should take action to stop people smoking and should also take action against the tobacco companies. The government should use its power to regulate the tobacco industry. Providing health care for smoking-related disease is a cost borne by the non-smoking taxpayer. The tobacco industry uses clever marketing techniques to promote tobacco. It is not surprising they shredded documents to cover up their strategies for addicting more people to tobacco.

This essay will discuss about why the tobacco companies should be held responsible for smoking related illness or death. It will also discuss the law regulating in Bangladesh and other nations.

2. (a) The Juvenile Smoking Act, 1919 (Bengal ACT II of 1919)[3]

This is an act for the prevention of smoking by Juveniles. “No person shall sell or give to a person apparently under the age of 16 years any tobacco, pipes or cigarettes papers whether for his own use or not”[4].  It is lawful for a police officer or any other person duly authorized by the government, to seize any tobacco or cigarettes papers in the possession of any person under the age of 16 whom he finds smoking in any street or public place[5].

(b) The Prohibition of Smoking in Show-Houses Act, 1952

“Under this Act whoever smokes during an exhibition, in any part of show house reserved for the audience shall be punishable with fine which for a first offence may extend to twenty-five taka and for a second or subsequent offence to one hundred taka”[6].

There is law, but it is not implemented in most of the times. Moreover, the penalty of breaking this law is too less. People are not at all bothered with this kind of law. There should be strict monitoring in show houses, so that anyone breaking the law can be easily caught. This Act should be amended and fine amount should be increased to such an amount, so that people will not dare to smoke.

(c)The Bidi Manufacture (Prohibition) Ordinance, 1975 (Ordinance No. LVII of 1975[7]

It is an ordinance to prohibit manufacture of bidi in Bangladesh. “Bidi” means a small cylinder of cut tobacco rolled for smoking in kumbhi leaf. No person in Bangladesh shall manufacture bidi or engage in any trade or occupation involving or connected with the manufacture of bidi after the commencement of this ordinance.

Despite of this ordinance, bidi is manufactured in our country and are widely available in the footpaths, ex- Akij bidi, etc. Rickshaw drivers those who can not afford cigarettes, are dependent on bidi; since it is much cheaper in price.

Penalty- Whoever contravenes any provision of this ordinance shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one thousand taka, or with both.

3. Why tobacco companies should be held responsible?


In the year 1960 and 1988, approximately three hundred lawsuits wanted to sue tobacco companies for smoking-related illnesses; but courts consistently held that people who choose to smoke are responsible for the health consequences of that decision[8]. But in 1988, a tobacco company was ordered to pay damages for the first time. “A federal jury in Newark, New Jersey, ordered Liggett Group, Inc., to pay $400,000 to the family of Rose Cipollone, a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in 1984. The justices decided that the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1966 (PL 89-92), which required warnings on tobacco products, did not preempt damage suits. Despite the warnings on tobacco packaging, people can still sue on the grounds that tobacco companies purposely concealed information about the risks of smoking”[9]. In 1994 Mississippi became the first state to sue tobacco companies to regain health care costs associated with smoking[10]. In 1995 and 1996, fifteen states filed suit against cigarette companies.


Tobacco use is highly addictive. Studies have shown that more than 80 percent of adult smokers began smoking when they were under the age of 18 and that the average age of smoking initiation was 13. By the time youth become adults they get addicted. Although two-thirds of adults who smoke, said that they wish they could quit smoking; and 17 million people try to quit each year, less than one out of 10 succeeds[11]. It can be said that a 13-year-old boy does not have the knowledge, maturity and life experience to make a informed decision about using a highly addictive and dangerous product. In fact, the tobacco industry has long hidden the truth about the dangerous and addictive qualities of its products from the public. Since the 1950s, the industry has purposely censored its knowledge that the nicotine in tobacco is addictive and that the use of tobacco has serious adverse health consequences, including cancers and death[12].

4. Scenario in a state in New England:

No person or company is above the law, including the tobacco industry. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed suit on behalf of the State of Connecticut because the tobacco industry has been engaged in unlawful conduct, including fraud and conspiracy, and has violated state antitrust and consumer protection laws[13]. Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. The tobacco industry’s products are addictive and kill consumers. In order to recruit new users, the industry targets children through its advertising and encourages them to use tobacco products. As a direct result of these illegal acts, the tobacco industry’s products have killed far more Connecticut residents than AIDS, homicide, suicide, automobile accidents, and alcohol abuse combined. More than 5,400 Connecticut residents die each year from tobacco-related causes[14].

The lawsuit alleges that industry documents revealed that the tobacco industry has long known that smoking causes death and disease, but has intentionally concealed its knowledge from the public. More than forty years ago, in 1953, tobacco company executives met at the Plaza Hotel in New York and concocted a public relations scheme to hide the truth about the health hazards of smoking[15]. In January 1954, the tobacco companies ran advertisements in newspapers throughout the country entitled “A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers.” The tobacco industry promised in this advertisement, and in other public relations statements, that it would “promote the progress of independent scientific research in the field of tobacco and health” and cooperate “in efforts to learn and make known all the facts.” In spite of these promises, the lawsuit alleges that the industry has continued to deceive the public about the real health risks of tobacco use and has conspired to suppress research and block development of a less hazardous product[16].

In addition to concealing the truth from the public that the use of tobacco products causes’ death and disease, the tobacco industry has conducted extensive secret research on the properties of nicotine and has long known that nicotine is a powerfully addictive substance. The complaint alleges that the tobacco industry has manipulated the nicotine content of its products in an attempt to keep people smoking and make their product more addictive, while at the same time publicly denying any knowledge that nicotine is addictive[17].

Paying taxes doesn’t give anyone a license to engage in conspiracies or to defraud the public or to violate the law. Corporations that violate the law still must be held accountable for the harm that they cause. For example, companies that violate state pollution laws do not have their fines excused because they’ve paid taxes or fees to the state. The State of Connecticut is asking the tobacco companies to pay for the damage that they have caused as a result of their conduct[18]. Furthermore, taxes do not come close to covering the costs of tobacco-related illnesses. Despite the massive health consequences of its product, the tobacco industry has never paid a cent in compensation to society. The truth is that tobacco companies themselves pay very little taxes. Distributors pay the bulk of state excise taxes, which are passed on to the consumers. Consumers pay state sales taxes for cigarettes, not the tobacco companies[19].

Most states prohibit the sale of cigarettes to anyone under eighteen but the laws are often ignored and carry no penalties for youths who buy cigarettes or smoke in public. According to the American Lung Association, nearly six thousand children start smoking each day, and 4.5 million adolescents are smokers[20]. This type of ignorance is mostly in Bangladesh. There is prohibition for people to smoke in public places, but there is no implementation of this law.

5. Prospective Settlement by the Tobacco companies

To avoid the onslaught of lawsuits, the tobacco industry sought a national settlement with the states, in return for future protection from lawsuits. In June 1997 the country’s largest tobacco companies and forty states that had filed suit against the tobacco industry agreed on a settlement. According to the proposed agreement, tobacco companies would pay the states $368.5 billion over twenty-five years to compensate them for their tobacco-related medical costs and to pay for tobacco-control programs to reduce tobacco use among youngsters[21].


After doing a thorough research it has been found that tobacco companies should be held responsible for smoking related illness or death. The reasons behind this statement are explained above with relevant facts and knowledge. To some extent smokers could be held responsible too, because tobacco companies do not force people to smoke. On the other hand, it can be said that though tobacco companies do not force people to smoke; but they do influence or attract people towards smoking through effective advertising.

Once people get addicted, it becomes difficult to quit. Moreover, tobacco companies uses increased amount of nicotine; for which people gets addicted. From the research it has been found that tobacco companies intentionally use high amount of nicotine, so that it becomes difficult or nearly impossible for a person to quit smoking. Tobacco companies know the consequences of smoking very well, but still they are making cigarettes and manipulating the amount of nicotine; which is indeed a very big crime. They are making mistake intentionally, they are not at all concerned about the health related issues. The only thing they are concerned about is making profit unethically.


  • Farooque, M. & Hasan, S.(1996) Laws regulating Environment in Bangladesh,

Dhaka: BELA, pp.91-93.

  • Aron, N. (1989) Liberty and Justice for All, London: Westview Press.

  • Oxford Journals, 2010, [online, retrieved on 07/10/10], available at:

  • Library Index, 2010, [online, retrieved on 07/10/10], available at:

  • State of Connecticut, 2010, [online, retrieved on 09/10/10], available at:

  • Oppapers, 2010, [online, retrieved on 11/10/10], available at:

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[1] See,

[2] See,

[3] See, Faroque & Hasan (1996) “Laws Regulating Environment in Bangladesh”, P-91.

[4] See, Faroque & Hasan (1996) “Laws Regulating Environment in Bangladesh”, P-91.

[5] See, Faroque & Hasan (1996) “Laws Regulating Environment in Bangladesh”, P-91.

[6] The management has to make notice prominent to the audience that any person smoking during the exhibition, shall be liable to arrest without warrant and fined. See, Faroque & Hasan (1996) “Laws Regulating Environment in Bangladesh”, P-93.

[7] See, Faroque & Hasan (1996) “Laws Regulating Environment in Bangladesh”, P-93.

[8] See,

[9] See,

[10] In May 1994 top secret documents from tobacco company Brown & Williamson were leaked to the New York Times and the University of California Tobacco Control Archive. These documents included memos, marketing reports, research papers, and corporate policy statements from the 1960s through the 1980s. The papers clearly indicated the company’s efforts to conceal the health risks of their product. See, The State of Mississippi v. American Tobacco et al., Case No. 94-1429

[11] See,

[12] See,

[13] See,

[14] The State of Connecticut is suing the tobacco industry to recover the nearly $100 million that state taxpayers spend through Medicaid and other programs each year to treat residents who are sick and dying from the effects of using tobacco products.

[15] See,

[16] See,

[17] See,

[18] See,

[19] See,

[20] See,

[21] See,