Jun. 7 2005
Washington, DC — In closing arguments today in its racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco industry, the Department of Justice presented a convincing case that the tobacco companies have engaged in a decades-long scheme to defraud the American people and market to children, and the government listed the right remedies to reform the industry and prevent its wrongful behavior from continuing. However, the government sought woefully inadequate funding for one of the most important remedies, a nationwide program to help smokers quit, and it failed to state how much funding it is seeking for another important remedy, a national public education campaign to prevent kids from starting to smoke.
The watering down and lack of specificity regarding remedies is inconsistent with the powerful evidence introduced by the government and raise questions about whether decisions in this case are now being made based on political considerations, rather than legal and public health considerations. After a trial that has exposed 50 years of tobacco company wrongdoing that continues to this day, the Justice Department is suddenly and inexplicably backing away from strong remedies its own expert witnesses have recommended.
The government’s expert witness on smoking cessation has recommended a 25-year, $130 billion program that would include a national telephone quitline network, universal access to smoking cessation medication and counseling, an extensive media campaign, research and education of medical providers. Without explanation, the government today disregarded this recommendation and proposed funding a smoking cessation program at $2 billion a year for only five years. This funding is not nearly enough to help the 46 million already addicted smokers to quit or to deter the industry from continuing to deceive and addict new smokers in the future. Today’s actions are inconsistent with the strong case the Justice Department has put on in recent months, and they are disturbingly reminiscent of the Bush Administration’s initial hostility toward the tobacco lawsuit in 2001, when the Administration sought unsuccessfully to deny funding for the lawsuit and settle it prematurely.
The tobacco industry contributes millions of dollars in political donations each election, and one of its top priorities has been to terminate this lawsuit or get off the hook with weak remedies that allow business as usual. The government’s weakening of important remedies today moves the industry closer to its goal. Unless the Administration reverses course and strengthens the remedies it is seeking, it will miss a truly historic opportunity to hold the tobacco industry legally accountable for its wrongful behavior and reduce tobacco’s terrible toll in health, lives and money. We urge the Administration to continue to insist on the strong remedies recommended by its own expert witnesses, including fundamental reform of the industry’s harmful marketing practices; the establishment of well-funded, sustained, nationwide programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit; and financial penalties against the tobacco companies should they continue to addict our children.