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Tobacco Companies Ask Court to Allow Them to Deceive Foreign Consumers

September 02, 2006

Washington, DC — Only two weeks after U.S. Judge Gladys Kessler found that the major tobacco companies had deceived consumers by falsely promoting so called 'low tar,' 'light,' 'ultra light,' 'mild,' and “natural,” cigarettes as less harmful and banned the continued use of these deceptive terms, British American Tobacco and Philip Morris/Altria, the two largest multinational tobacco companies involved in the case and others have filed documents asking Judge Kessler to allow them to continue to use these misleading terms outside the United States.

'Only an industry that has survived for 50 years by deceiving the American public on a continuing and regular basis would have trouble complying with an order that tells them to simply tell the truth,' said Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. 'What part of 'tell the truth’ don't they understand? The tobacco companies evidently think that they should be allowed to deceive people overseas about the dangers of cigarettes even though they have been told to stop doing so in the United States.'

On August 17, 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler devoted over 240 pages of her opinion to evidence that the major tobacco companies have deceived consumers about the health risks of light and low tar cigarettes. But, in a transparent effort to subvert the impact of her ruling, Philip Morris/Altria, R.J. Reynolds, Brown and Williamson, Lorillard and British American Tobacco, filed court papers yesterday asking the judge if they could continue selling “light” and “low-tar” cigarettes overseas.

The tobacco companies’ request to Judge Kessler flies in the face of international efforts to ban such misleading terms as codified in the global tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, that has already been ratified by over 135 countries.

In her ruling, Judge Kessler found that “Defendants falsely marketed and promoted “low tar” and “light” cigarettes as less harmful than full-flavor cigarettes in order to keep people smoking and sustain corporate revenues” and “despite their internal knowledge, Defendants’ marketing and public statements about low tar cigarettes continue to suggest that they are less harmful than full-flavor cigarettes.” In her 1,683 page ruling, she also stated that the “Defendants have marketed and sold their lethal products with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.”

Two of the companies involved in the ruling, Philip Morris/Altria and British American Tobacco, are the world's largest international cigarette vendors. Taken together, the two companies sell cigarettes on all six continents and control some one-third of the global cigarette market (see The World Health Organization’s Tobacco Atlas:

The tobacco companies’ request to continue these deceptive practices overseas comes on the heels of a new report released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that found that the companies have secretly and significantly increased the levels of nicotine in cigarette smoke between 1998 and 2004. The report finds that nicotine levels in the three cigarette brands that are most popular among youth smokers-Marlboro, Newport and Camel-have increased significantly between 1998 and 2004.