Tobacco Firms Agree to Meet With DOJ, But Don’t Concede
Some of the nation's largest tobacco companies said they are willing to meet with government lawyers to "discuss the possibility" of settling the Department of Justice's racketeering lawsuit against the industry -- a possibility raised by Attorney General John Ashcroft earlier this week -- but gave "few indications" that they would agree to "any significant concessions," the New York Times reports (Winter, New York Times, 6/22). While talks between the industry and DOJ may be the "first step" toward ending the lawsuit, neither side has commented on what discussions might include (Kaufman, Washington Post, 6/22). The Times reports that the talks would "likely" cover regulation of tobacco. However, it is "unclear" how the talks could "forward that goal," as Congressional action would be needed to give the FDA jurisdiction over tobacco. The companies said they could "prevail in court without compromising," the Times reports. R.J. Reynolds said in a statement, "We have no intention of settling this suit. We do not believe this lawsuit has any legitimate basis." The Times reports that while R.J. Reynolds plans to "join the talks," it is continuing to "prepare [its] defense" against the suit (New York Times, 6/22). In a statement, Philip Morris said, "While we continue to believe the lawsuit is without merit and should be dismissed, we intend to meet with the department's representatives and listen to what they may have to say" (Washington Post, 6/22).
In an editorial, the San Jose Mercury News writes: The "public will lose out" because the Justice Department is not "aggressively ... pursuing" the lawsuit against the industry. By admitting that it has "a weak case," the government has "throw[n] away ... bargaining power" in the negotiations. About the possibility of FDA regulation of tobacco, the editorial concludes: "If the attorneys who negotiate that agreement are the same ones who are so eager to unload the government's lawsuit, don't expect meaningful regulation" (San Jose Mercury News, 6/21).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.