Justice Department Files 2,500-Page Court Document To Outline Main Arguments in Tobacco Lawsuit
The Department of Justice on Thursday "se[t] out central arguments" in its lawsuit against tobacco companies that accuses them of "using fraudulent means to recruit new smokers, misleading the public on the health dangers of secondhand smoke and violating the industry's landmark legal settlement in 1998," the Wall Street Journal reports (O'Connell, Wall Street Journal, 7/6). The lawsuit, filed in March 2003, seeks $289 billion from Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard Tobacco and the Liggett Group. Of the total, $280 billion represents revenue from sales between 1971 and 2000 to smokers younger than age 21, as well as interest. DOJ alleges that the tobacco companies manipulated nicotine levels, misled consumers about the health risks of smoking and directed multibillion-dollar promotional campaigns at children. DOJ made the allegations as part of 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 (California Healthline, 5/25). In its new filing, totaling more than 2,500 pages, DOJ "echo[ed] some positions laid out in earlier filings" and "strengthened its arguments" about the companies misleading the public about the dangers of secondhand smoke and light and low-tar cigarettes, according to the Journal. The filing "serves as a blueprint" of the government's arguments when the case goes to trial Sept. 13 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the Journal reports.
In its filing, DOJ said that cigarette companies worked to "financially reward scientists in every world market" with the "overarching goal" of downplaying the dangers of secondhand smoke in an effort to forestall smoking bans. The government also said the companies' marketing of light and ultralight cigarettes provided "a false sense of reassurance to smokers," lessening "their resolve to quit smoking" and drawing "ex-smokers back into the market." The filing said that the tobacco companies' conduct thus far indicates a "reasonable likelihood" of future violations. The cigarette companies "deny the allegations," according to the Journal. In other papers filed last week, the government highlighted instances when tobacco companies might have "skirted terms" of the 1998 settlement by "allegedly selling so-called kiddie packs and using cartoon images to promote a cigarette brand," the Journal reports.
Tobacco companies said that the industry has reformed its policies since the 1998 settlement. William Ohlemeyer, associate general counsel for Altria Group, Philip Morris USA's parent company, said, "Most people would agree that the way this product is sold has changed dramatically since the late 1990s, even before the lawsuit was filed." He added, "The reason the Justice Department filing contains so little discussion of current misconduct is that it is a major hole in their case." Seth Moskowitz, a spokesperson for R.J. Reynolds, said the company has not yet reviewed the government's filing. Vince Willmore, communications director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said, "We think overall that the government lays out a strong case that the industry has not only a long history of wrongdoing but that its wrongdoing continues, just in a different guise" (Wall Street Journal, 7/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.