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Blaming tobacco's victims
  1. S Chapman
  1. Editor
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor Simon Chapman, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Edward Ford Building A27, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia;

Statistics from

People who develop diseases as a result of smoking are victims of the tobacco industry's tactics, and do not deserve to be blamed for their “own misdeeds”

The devastating judgment in the Supreme Court of Victoria against British American Tobacco (Australia)1 following evidence of its 17 year programme of document destruction seems destined to become a milestone in the pursuit of justice for the tobacco industry's millions of victims. However, although Liberman points out in this issue2 that the legal implications of the case may be momentous, public discussion of the case in Australia provides sobering reminders of the power of victim blaming to undermine what otherwise would be unequivocally good news.

Fifty one year old Rolah McCabe, the woman who brought the case against BAT, was in every respect a typical tobacco victim. She started smoking at 12, rapidly developed a dependency on nicotine, and by middle age was diagnosed with lung cancer. If she dies within the next year as predicted, she will lose 30 years off the lifespan that the average Australian woman can expect today. Over 4200 Australians aged less than 65 die each year from diseases caused by tobacco.3

People who sue tobacco companies find themselves as the focus of wider public discourses about the intertwined themes of personal responsibility, the spectre of the sort of bleak society which wraps its citizens in cotton wool in the slavish pursuit of zero risk, and rapacious, venal lawyers encouraging lawsuits. These discourses reach out to us all, including citizens who might be selected for jury duty in such trials. In Australia, two recent cases widely ridiculed by the public have included a man who became a quadriplegic when he broke his neck after diving into a sandbank in the surf at Sydney's Bondi beach. …

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