Sep. 4 2001
Washington, DC — Public health groups today applauded Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) for fighting to hold the tobacco industry accountable for decades of deception and wrongdoing by leading a U.S. Senate hearing to examine the Bush Administration's handling of the federal government's lawsuit against the industry.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2001, at 2:30 p.m. in Room 226 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building.
The federal tobacco lawsuit, filed in September 1999, seeks to hold the tobacco industry legally accountable for decades of illegal and harmful practices, such as deceiving the public about the health risks of smoking, the addictiveness of nicotine and marketing practices aimed at children. The suit seeks to stop these harmful practices and recover ill-gotten gains by the industry. In September 2000, a federal judge denied the tobacco industry's motion to dismiss the lawsuit and ruled that it has sufficient merit to continue under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act.
After coming into office in January, Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department initially did not request the funding the department's attorneys said they needed to continue the case, and the news media reported the Attorney General was planning to replace the litigation team. In June, the Justice Department announced it would seek to settle the lawsuit after Administration officials declared anonymously before any negotiations began that they believed they had a weak case. Legal experts have disagreed with both the assertion of a weak case and the strategy of announcing a public position of weakness before entering settlement negotiations.
The American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have joined together to applaud Sen. Durbin's efforts to ensure that the American people get their day in court. If successful, this case has the potential to force the tobacco companies to fundamentally change their harmful marketing practices – including the targeting of children.
Despite the tobacco companies' promise as part of the 1998 state tobacco settlement to stop targeting kids with their advertising, recent studies show that tobacco industry spending on marketing reached record levels after the settlement. Much of the increase was in ways effective at reaching and influencing kids, including youth-oriented magazines and convenience stores.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people every year. Every day, 3,000 kids become regular smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result.