Department of Justice Ends First Phase of Federal Racketeering Lawsuit Against Tobacco Companies
The Department of Justice on Thursday ended the first phase of a racketeering lawsuit against several large U.S. tobacco companies as "lawyers disputed whether the companies had misled the public about the health effects of smoking," the New York Times reports (Janofsky, New York Times, 4/22). On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia voted 3-3 to reject an appeal to reconsider a decision under which DOJ cannot seek $280 billion in past profits against the tobacco companies.
The lawsuit alleges that Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard Tobacco and the Liggett Group misled consumers about the health risks of smoking and directed multibillion-dollar promotional campaigns at children in violation of the civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. DOJ made the allegations as part of a larger federal lawsuit first filed by the Clinton administration in 1999 that accuses the tobacco industry of conspiracy to mislead consumers about the dangers of smoking.
DOJ attorneys in February announced a new strategy under which the department would seek to require the tobacco companies "to fund sustained smoking-cessation programs that have been scientifically proven effective." In addition, DOJ would seek to require the tobacco companies to fund a public education campaign on the health risks of smoking and second-hand smoke and programs to discourage teenagers from smoking. DOJ also would seek to require the tobacco companies to pay future fines in the event that youth smoking rates do not decrease at an adequate rate (California Healthline, 4/21).
After a recess next week, the trial will move into the final stage, which will involve witness testimony on potential remedies. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, who has overseen the lawsuit, might apply the remedies if she rules in favor of DOJ. "I don't know what other conduct the government wants remedied that is not remedied" by the 1998 national tobacco settlement, Dan Webb, an attorney for Phillip Morris, said. Stephen Brody, a DOJ attorney, said, "After seven months, liability has been established, and it threatens to continue in the next 50 years in the absence of remedies" (New York Times, 4/22).