May 12, 2002 11:00 pm

What price do you put on a life? A million dollars? A billion dollars? Priceless? That was the dilemma faced when a jury awarded an Oregon family $150 million in a tobacco lawsuit against Philip Morris. The lawsuit was filed by the family of Michaelle Schwarz of Salem, who died prematurely due to lung cancer in 1999 from smoking even though she had been smoking Merits, a variety advertised to be "low tar" and thus safer than inhaling smoke from regular cigarettes.

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Roosevelt Robinson reduced the punitive damage award to $100 million, ruling the other figure "grossly excessive." Philip Morris has said it will vigorously appeal the case, and most likely appeal again, thereby enriching lawyers, whether honest or suffering from relentless greed and not much else.

CIGARETTE smokers should know by now there is no safe way to smoke. Even if Philip Morris is guilty of trickery and deceit in its marketing and advertising, most people realize that breathing in smoke is not as healthy as breathing in fresh air. There are warning labels from the surgeon general on every pack, and when a person lights up a cancer stick he is probably shortening his life. He also is increasing the odds that he will suffer an agonizing death. Oregonians need to be protected from harmful products, but they also need to get away from the victim mentality and to show the common sense the pioneers brought here but that has been inexorably shrinking in recent years.

It's true, false advertising needs to be punished. Sure, it takes an awful hard slap on the wrist to discourage a deep-pockets corporation like Philip Morris from exploiting this addiction for profit. And yes, there may need to be some victim restitution.

It's just unfortunate that the money goes to one family and doesn't also go in part to something worthy such as the Oregon Health Plan, or some other effort to provide insurance for the uninsured, so that we become a more caring and compassionate state.


Postal employees deserve to know they will be safe when making their appointed round, come rain, snow, sleet or whatever else nature can dish out. The problem is what people can dish out, such as anthrax or the recent spate of mailbox bombings. Seems when authorities last week arrested alleged mailbox pipe bomber Luke Helder, a 21-year-old college student, in Nevada, the bombings continued in the Spokane area with a person authorities called a prankster.

No matter what your opinion about the Postal Service, these employees, like the rest of us, deserve a safe work environment. And the brain-dead people and wing nuts who are tempted to pull these stunts should remember that damaging mailboxes is a federal offense with a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If that doesn't sock you between the eyes, nothing will.