Public Health Groups Condemn Tobacco Companies for Trying to Delay and Weaken Penalties For Violating Racketeering Laws

Statement by Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights and National African American Tobacco Prevention Network

Washington (February 7, 2011)

According to court filings, the tobacco companies are seeking to block public disclosure of proposed statements a federal judge has ordered them to make to correct their deceptions about their deadly products. Our organizations today urged U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler – who in 2006 found the tobacco companies guilty of violating civil racketeering laws – to require public disclosure of the government’s proposed corrective statements and research about them (see our court filing).

As public health groups that are parties to the federal government’s racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco companies, we vigorously oppose the companies’ efforts to delay and weaken remedies imposed to address their fraudulent conduct. Even after being found guilty of deceiving the American people, the tobacco companies are still seeking to escape the consequences of their actions.

Keeping the proposed statements secret serves only to give the tobacco companies the opportunity to delay and weaken the statements and furthers their goal of continuing business as usual. As our court filing states, “The public has the right to know what the government is proposing, and why.”

In 2006, Judge Kessler issued a landmark verdict finding the major cigarette manufacturers guilty of violating civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Judge Kessler’s 1,683-page opinion found that the companies have engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to deceive the American public and target children with their deadly and addictive products. In June 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals in the case, allowing Judge Kessler’s verdict to stand.

One of Judge Kessler’s remedies, since upheld on appeal, requires the tobacco companies to make corrective statements about the health harms of smoking and secondhand smoke and their deceptive practices through newspaper and television advertising, at point of sale, on their web sites and on cigarette packaging. The government has been conducting research to determine the most effective corrective statements and, as ordered by Judge Kessler, was scheduled to submit the proposed statements to the court on Thursday. But public disclosure of the proposed statements was delayed because of a challenge by the tobacco companies.