Surgeon General Testifies in Department of Justice Racketeering Lawsuit Against Tobacco Companies
U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona on Tuesday testified in the Department of Justice racketeering lawsuit against several large U.S. tobacco companies that a general, nationwide anti-smoking program would do less to discourage the practice than smaller programs developed for specific regions and ethnic groups, the New York Times reports (Janofsky, New York Times, 5/4).
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.
The trial has moved into the final stage, which involves witness testimony on potential remedies. DOJ attorneys in February announced a 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.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, who has overseen the lawsuit, might apply the remedies if she rules in favor of DOJ (California Healthline, 4/22).
Carmona said, "What works on a Native American Reservation in the Southwest may not work in New York City, South Dakota or Beverly Hills." He added, "I don't think we'll ever be at a point where we can say, 'Here is a national solution'" (New York Times, 5/4).
In cross examination, Brown & Williamson attorney David Bernick focused on a 2004 report that Carmona issued on the health risks of smoking (AP/Kansas City Star, 5/4). The report did not address smoking-cessation programs and many of the other remedies sought by DOJ.
Carmona said that in 2003 his office considered a smoking-cessation program based on a recommendation to HHS by a committee appointed by CDC but never developed such a program. However, Carmona said, "The absence of a specific path to take doesn't mean they wouldn't be taken up by others in the future," adding that the report "is not an encyclopedia that includes every single issue."
Outside the courtroom, Bernick said, "It turns out that none of the remedies the government is seeking have been endorsed by the surgeon general, including ideas rejected by HHS" (New York Times, 5/4).