Tobacco Companies and 20 million Deaths — Without criminal penalty
Before its civil war began in 2011, Syria had a population of 23 million people. In the ensuing four years, 11 million Syrians have died or fled their homes, and nearly four million of Syria’s citizens fled the country altogether, many now seeking refuge in Europe. 11 million people. But it was the photograph 3 year-old Aylan Kurdi lying still and lifeless on the shore – four years into the refugee crisis – that jolted the world into action to focus on the plight of those people.
Pope Francis waved to tens of thousands of people in Washington, DC, New York City, and Philadelphia, but it was his embrace of 10 year-old Michael Keating, a boy living with cerebral palsy, that defined the Pope’s mission and visit more than any assembly of the masses.
Last week, the former CEO of the now-defunct Peanut Corporation of America was sentenced to a 28-year prison term – effectively a sentence of life behind bars – for knowingly shipping out deadly food intended to be purchased and consumed by human beings. That food killed nine people, and made 714 other people sick, including some so critically ill they required kidney transplants. Jeff Almer’s mother was one of those nine people who died. “You took my mom,” he told the former CEO who gave the order to ship the deadly food.
One must ask why the cigarette company executives, whose acts of fraud and deceit produced 20 million American deaths, were not only never convicted of a single crime for what they did, but were never even charged. The responsible executives suffered no penalty . Twenty million dead Americans. Numbers can be overwhelming, and lose meaning and impact even when they quantify death and suffering. But focusing on one victim – one family – at a time, like juries do in Engle progeny jury trials, spurs action to exact justice from those responsible. Life is precious, and highlighting the individual plight of people spurs action in the human spirit.