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Justice Department Documents in Tobacco Lawsuit Show Tobacco Industry Continues to Market to Kids and Deceive Public

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Vice President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
March 19, 2003

Washington, D.C. — New documents filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in its racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco industry explode the myth perpetuated by the tobacco companies that they have changed and put the nation's top law enforcement agency on the record in recognizing that the industry has continued to act lawlessly. The more than 1,400 pages of court filings by the Justice Department document how the major tobacco companies for decades have conspired to deceive the public about the harm caused by tobacco products, worked to discredit scientific studies linking smoking and disease, manipulated their products to make them more addictive, and marketed these deadly products to children. Most important, these documents demonstrate that the tobacco industry's wrongdoing continues today, including its marketing to kids. It speaks volumes about the magnitude of the tobacco industry's wrongdoing that this Administration has made such a powerful case against the industry.

In light of these findings, it is critical that the Department of Justice continue to aggressively pursue this lawsuit on its merits and without political interference. In addition to forcing the industry to give up illegally obtained profits, the strong case laid out by the government has great potential to fundamentally reform the tobacco industry so it no longer markets to kids or engages in other harmful practices.

Among other things, the Justice Department documents show:

  • The tobacco companies in 1953 launched a decades-long 'fraudulent scheme' to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking and discredit scientific and medical evidence that smoking was a cause of disease.
  • The tobacco companies 'designed their cigarettes with a central overriding objective – to ensure that the smoker could obtain enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.'
  • The tobacco companies deceptively marketed 'light' and 'low-tar' cigarettes as less hazardous despite knowing from their own research that this was not the case. They also manipulated the design of these cigarettes so that they produced less tar when tested by government smoking machines, but not when smoked by actual smokers who changed their smoking habits to maintain nicotine levels.
  • With regard to youth marketing, the tobacco companies 'continue to advertise in youth-oriented publications; employ imagery and messages that they know are appealing to teenagers; increasingly concentrate their marketing in places where they know youths will frequent such as convenience stores; engage in strategic pricing to attract youths; increase their marketing at point-of-sale locations with promotions, self-service displays, and other materials; sponsor sporting and entertainment events, many of which are televised or otherwise broadcast and draw large youth audiences; and engage in a host of other activities which are designed to attract youths to begin and continue smoking.'

This powerful evidence of the tobacco industry's continued marketing to children and other wrongdoing should spur elected officials at all levels to take action to protect our kids and reduce the harm caused by tobacco products. Congress should enact long overdue legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective authority over the marketing, manufacturing and sale of tobacco products, including the authority to ban deceptive terms such as 'light' and 'low-tar.' State elected officials should support proven measures to prevent kids from starting to smoke and help smokers quit, including comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programs and tobacco tax increases. And local elected officials should support comprehensive smoke-free workplace policies. Elected officials should not be protecting the interests of a tobacco industry that the U.S. Department of Justice has found continues to break the law.