Attorney General Ashcroft Should Support Continued Funding for DOJ Tobacco Lawsuit

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Vice President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Apr. 25 2001

Washington, DC — During his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate in January, Attorney General John Ashcroft stated he had "no predisposition to dismiss" the Department of Justice lawsuit against the tobacco industry and he would review the facts of the case before deciding how to proceed. Now a memo to the Attorney General from the Justice Department's Tobacco Litigation Team makes it clear that if this review continues much longer, it will have the effect of killing the lawsuit by denying the department's lawyers the funding they need to continue the litigation. No decision is a decision to stop the lawsuit.

This is the moment of truth for the Bush Administration: Will they kill the lawsuit with a lengthy review as the tobacco industry wants or will they give the American people their day in court and seek to hold the industry accountable for decades of deception and wrongdoing? The decisions in this case should be based on the law and the facts, not the politics. And the law and the facts argue strongly for continuation of the lawsuit. It would be especially irresponsible to abandon the lawsuit in light of U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler's ruling in September that the government's racketeering claims against the tobacco industry have sufficient merit to move forward. If these claims are successful, the federal government would be able to recover profits stemming from unlawful tobacco industry activity – potentially billions of dollars – and force changes in the industry's behavior, such as its advertising and marketing practices that impact kids and its deception about the harm caused by its products.

The federal government has a strong case to make given the overwhelming evidence that the tobacco companies have conspired since the 1950s to defraud and mislead the American people and conceal information about the health effects of smoking. Despite the tobacco companies' claims to the contrary, there is powerful evidence that the industry's harmful behavior continues today. A recent Federal Trade Commission report shows that in 1999, the tobacco industry increased its marketing expenditures by the largest amount ever, reaching a record $8.24 billion – $22.5 million a day or nearly $1 million an hour. This increase came in the first year after the tobacco companies signed the state settlement agreement in which they promised to stop targeting kids, and much of the increase was in ways effective at reaching kids, such as price discounts that make cigarettes cheaper and high visibility store shelf displays. This is not an industry that deserves special legal protection.

The tobacco industry has sought to evade responsibility for its harmful actions with millions of dollars in campaign contributions. During the 2000 election cycle alone, the tobacco industry contributed $8.3 million at the federal level, and one of the industry's top priorities is to kill the DoJ lawsuit. The Administration should reject the industry's efforts to gain special protection and act to protect taxpayers and the public health instead. Attorney General Ashcroft is scheduled to testify Thursday before the Senate Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations Committee. We urge him to make clear at that time that the Administration will continue this lawsuit, seek the funding that the Justice Department's attorneys say they need, and by so doing, act to protect America's children.

 

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