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In Victory for Global Health, U.S. Judge Prohibits Major Tobacco Companies from Using Deceptive Terms

March 16, 2007

Washington, DC — The United States judge who last year found major tobacco companies guilty of engaging in illegal business activities today ordered the tobacco company defendants to stop using deceptive cigarette marketing terms such as 'light' and 'low-tar' not only in the U.S., but internationally as well.

'This is a major victory for global public health and for efforts to reduce tobacco use around the world,' said Damon Moglen, Vice President of International Programs at Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. 'Today's ruling rightly recognizes that tobacco companies should not be allowed to deceive consumers about their deadly and addictive products anywhere in the world.'

Today's ruling applies to defendants in the case including Philip Morris USA, Altria (parent company of Philip Morris International), R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, Lorillard and British American Tobacco. Two of the companies involved, Philip Morris/Altria and British American Tobacco, are among the world's largest international cigarette vendors. Together, the two companies sell cigarettes on all six continents and control some one-third of the global cigarette market

In a prior development, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler on August 17, 2006 issued a final verdict finding that the tobacco companies had violated the civil racketeering laws of the United States by lying for decades about the health risks of their products and their marketing to children. This verdict was the result of a lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice filed against the tobacco companies in 1999.

Among the changes she ordered in tobacco company practices in the August 2006 verdict, Judge Kessler prohibited the tobacco companies from continuing to use deceptive terms like 'light' and 'low-tar.' The tobacco companies subsequently asked her to allow them to continue using these misleading terms outside the United States, essentially a request to continue to deceive their international customers. Today, Judge Kessler decisively and appropriately rejected this absurd request that could only come from an industry that survives on deception.

In her ruling today, Judge Kessler wrote: 'To rule otherwise would not only frustrate the salutary anti-fraud principles embodied in RICO, but would also allow the Defendants to spread fraudulent and misleading health messages and descriptors about their products throughout the world, even though they are prohibited from doing so in the United States. The Court sees no justification, either legal or ethical, for concluding that Congress intended to allow Defendants to continue to tell the rest of the world that 'low tar/light' cigarettes are less harmful to health when they are prohibited from making such fraudulent misrepresentation to the American public.'

Today's ruling - which will not be implemented until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit hears an appeal in the case - provides important reinforcement for efforts to reduce tobacco use worldwide and for effective implementation of the international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Among its provisions, the treaty calls on ratifying nations to ban misleading terms such as 'light' and 'low-tar.'