This Week in Millennial History: Tobacco Companies Pay Up
I don't remember this lawsuit, but I do remember cigarettes.
On Nov. 20, 1998, American tobacco companies signed a $206 billion agreement with 46 U.S. states to settle the states' claims for reimbursement of Medicaid funds they had expended to treat smoking-related illnesses. That was on top of $40 billion they paid the year prior.
I don’t remember this. At all. But what I do remember is going to restaurants and my parents asking for the non-smoking section, which was basically saying I want to sit at a table next to smokers, not at the table with the smokers. I remember cleaning ashtrays during my first job bussing tables in high school. I remember going to 80s night at Club Hell in Providence, when I was in college, and coming home to shower and the reek of cigarette smoke steaming out of my hair.
It’s wild to me that all of this wasn’t that long ago. Like, post 9/11. The second Bush was President and Survivor had already been airing for multiple seasons. And now we barely see cigarettes. I don’t even know where you could smoke anymore if you wanted to. The sidewalk?
I’m a product of the confusing era of “just say no” (cigarettes are dangerous) when bad boys and vixens casually smoked in whatever movie (cigarettes are sexy). Every so often, when I’m drinking and someone has one (on the sidewalk?) I’ll ask for a drag because it makes me feel… well, cool. I hate the smell and I think that smoking is gross. But for a moment, this deep rooted imagery comes crawling out, and I feel like a chic ballerina. Everything I say drips in drama.
That’s all just a hangover from the last millennium. I doubt kids smoke cigarettes like that anymore, but of course, smoking still exists. It’s just now in vapes. Which I have no desire to even try, and fuck them. It really is so wild to me how predatory and scary some of these businesses can be. Brad talks about as a kid how he would go to his grandmother’s house and pick out Virginia Slims basketballs from the catalog with her “Slim Points”. In other words, if you smoked enough cigarettes, you could get branded toys for children. (This is now illegal.)
Another memory from my childhood: When we visited my Great Aunt Bette, she would save Dunkin’ Donuts blueberry muffins for me in the freezer, which is a very New England statement. The bag would reek of tobacco from the pack a day she smoked in her kitchen. After Bette died, when my aunt moved into that house she pulled down the shades and there was a line clear across the fabric. The bottom was the color of dirt, the top, which Bette never unraveled, an untarnished white.
Here’s another things I remember:
Another aunt passing away in 2010 from a number of cancers we couldn’t even keep track of, (lung, mouth, tongue), empty cigarette packs piling up in her home’s trashcan. I remember hearing her struggled mumbles when she couldn’t speak because the tumors on her tongue, in her throat, got too large.
So sure, these companies paid in 1998, for the damage their products caused to people like my aunt. Times have changed, but the dangers are still out there; they’re just in a different package. We’ll see if the companies are once again held accountable in the future, when vaping side effects start haunting us. Until then, we’ll be the ones who keep paying.