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Justice Department Should Aggressively Pursue Tobacco Lawsuit And Reject Any Weak Settlement

Statement of Vince Willmore Communications Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
March 22, 2005

Washington, DC — The Wall Street Journal reported today that the U.S. Department of Justice and the nation’s largest tobacco companies have met with a court-appointed mediator in an effort to settle the government’s civil racketeering (RICO) lawsuit against the companies. The government has set a high bar for what it is seeking to achieve in this case, and it should not lower it now. As the government has argued, this lawsuit has the potential to put in place some of the most far-reaching measures this nation has ever taken to reduce tobacco use. These include fundamental reform of the tobacco industry’s harmful practices and the establishment of well-funded, sustained, nationwide programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. The government should continue to pursue the case aggressively with the goal of achieving these important public health remedies, and it should reject any effort by the tobacco industry to get off the hook with a weak settlement.

In a February 16, 2005, brief, the government outlined some of the remedies it will seek if it wins the case, including the funding of tobacco prevention and cessation programs. If properly funded and sustained over time, these programs would cost the tobacco companies tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars. In a Louisiana case last year, a jury ordered tobacco companies to pay nearly $600 million to fund smoking cessation programs for just that state’s smokers. Effective, nationwide tobacco prevention and cessation programs would cost many times that amount. The government has also indicated that it is seeking non-financial remedies, including the elimination of deceptive terms like “light” and “low-tar” and additional restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorships, promotions and other marketing.

The tobacco industry makes millions of dollars in political campaign contributions each election, and one of its top goals has been to terminate this lawsuit or get off with a weak settlement that allows the industry to continue business as usual. The Administration should reject such efforts and act to protect the public health instead. The tobacco companies should be held accountable for the decades of wrongful practices, many of which are still ongoing, that are the basis of this lawsuit, including marketing to children and concealing the health risks and addictiveness of their products.