Tobacco Industry Attorney Denies Knowledge of Document Destruction in Testimony for Justice Department Lawsuit
Tobacco industry attorney Robert Northrip on Monday testified in the trial of a Department of Justice lawsuit filed against several large U.S. tobacco companies over alleged violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act that government lawyers were incorrect when they indicated that he had direct knowledge about tobacco companies destroying documents related to the case, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports. Documents filed by DOJ attorneys indicated that Northrip would testify about the destruction of documents involved in an Australian lawsuit filed against a subsidiary of British American Tobacco (AP/Los Angeles Times, 10/5).
The DOJ lawsuit alleges that Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris, 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. 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 lawsuit seeks $280 billion in past profits, which represents revenues from sales to smokers younger than age 21 between 1971 and 2000, as well as interest. In addition, the lawsuit seeks $9 billion to pay for smoking-cessation programs and research into safer cigarettes. The trial, presided by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, began last month and likely will last at least six months, with 100 witnesses expected to testify in person and 200 others to testify through depositions or testimony in other trials (California Healthline, 9/28).
Northrip on Monday testified that he first became aware of the allegations of document destruction in 2002, when they became public as part of the decision in the Australian lawsuit. The decision had named Northrip as one of several individuals who might "know whether such documents were destroyed."
In addition, Northrip answered questions from DOJ attorneys about a memo that indicated he advised tobacco company officials to destroy research on the health risks of cigarette additives. Northrip testified that he told tobacco company officials they could only destroy research about additives that were tested but never used in cigarettes. He added, "I did not advocate it. I said it was something I believe they could do."
DOJ attorney Sharon Eubanks also asked Northrip about a statement he wrote that characterized cigarette smoking as a habit rather than addiction. Northrip stated in the document, "Statements in company documents cannot refute this conclusion" (AP/Los Angeles Times, 10/5).