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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
E-Mail: 76214.3676@Compuserve.com

The cigarette verdict and Waco ruling:
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 charges.

"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 years ago.

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 hours.

In both cases, "Good sense seems to have gone up in smoke," said Dasbach.

"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 reaffirmed."

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