Editorial: Government shouldn’t force humiliating rules upon companies
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 23:10
In 1999, the government brought tobacco companies to court under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations. The point of the suit was to hold the companies accountable for misleading and lying to the public about the effects of tobacco products on human beings. For example, the companies said for years that they had no control over the amount of nicotine in a cigarette. The truth, as it turns out, is that cigarettes are specifically designed to have an addictive nicotine content.
The result of the 2006 court decision was that, to prevent companies from misleading the public in the future, companies would need to issue industry-funded corrective statements. Tobacco companies argued that the need to issue statements should be rejected by the courts because they are “a forced public confession.”
As strange as it may seem to agree with Big Tobacco on any issue, this one seems reasonable, seeing that it could possibly set a precedent that government can force companies who omit information or spin industry-researched statistics to publically announce their actions. While this seems logical in the case of tobacco companies misleading people about a health issue, the line is much more difficult to draw after that. Punishment for the tobacco company’s potential health risks is well within the governments right to impose. However, forcing contrition on a corporate entity, or an individual, steps out of the government’s job description and is therefore unacceptable.
Big Tobacco companies aren’t necessarily in the right on this issue. However, the battle surrounding this dangerous precedent is being fought by them, and Americans should take notice of this fight and be on their side, if only for the sake of ensuring that such a punishment does not happen to a company that might not deserve it.
Shaming and humiliating the tobacco companies feels right. But what authority does the federal government have to force these entities to feel bad for what they have done? The answer is none. Just because someone has the ability to do something does not mean that they have the right to do so. Americans should realize this and accept the limitations of how tobacco companies can be punished for their lies. The government is not a citizen’s parent. It therefore has no right to force contrition on a citizen – which is exactly what it is trying to do with tobacco companies. It is an unnecessary muscle-flexing tactic designed solely to humiliate the companies and make the people of America feel like they have a strong government instead of an overpowered one. This is a situation that needs to be stopped immediately.