PENSACOLA, Fla. – A Florida jury this week ordered R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to pay a widowed woman $26 billion in punitive damages almost twenty years after her husband died of lung cancer. The decision, one of the largest of its kind, is already having an effect on the American youth, according to a new poll.
While a few teens who learned of the trial’s outcome said that it made them realize that “smoking is a dangerous and unhealthy habit,” the vast majority of teens polled said they now understand that “smoking pays, big time.”
“I used to always turn down cigs when they were offered to me,” said Brooklyn Hays, 15, of Tallahassee, one of the poll’s respondents. “I just thought, ‘Why get addicted to something that’s gonna cost me like $50 bucks a week?’”
But like many teens, Hays said that the Florida case changed her mind. “Now I see that smoking is an investment. Sure, I gotta pay a little up front, but that’s nothing compared to the billions I’ve got coming after a decade or two.”
Another teen who decided to start smoking after hearing about the trial said that, in today’s economy, a tobacco habit makes more long-term financial sense than pursuing higher education. “I’m supposed to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for college, only to have trouble finding a job in my field and end up working for my dad’s porta-potty company?” asked Hunter Daniel, 16. “Nah, I’d rather just develop lung cancer and go live on a private island somewhere, thank you very much.”
Lawyers in the case argued that the deceased, who started smoking when he was 13 and died at 36, was attracted to smoking by malicious advertising and was not adequately warned of tobacco’s dangers. Willie Gary, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, said that one of his goals was to stop tobacco companies from targeting youth with their advertising.
“If I knew this verdict would actually make kids want to smoke, I would have thought twice about pursuing the case,” Gary said.
Michael Friday, one of the researchers who conducted the poll, said that the findings are clear, even if they “don’t make a whole lot of sense.”
“Obviously, there’s some logical problems here,” Friday said. “These kids don’t seem to realize that they have to be killed by cigarettes in order to get paid, which you would think would make it sound less attractive to them. But hey—that’s youth for ya.”
A representative for R.J. Reynolds said that “the damages awarded in this case are grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law.”
“Plus, do we really want to give kids that incentive?” he continued. “I’ve seen kids get jumped for $200 Beats. Do you know how many pairs of headphones you can buy with $26 billion?”