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Law & Order: Tobacco Industry Racket

(August 17, 2016)

Gavel strikes down big tobacco

August 17, 2016 marks the tenth anniversary of a landmark legal decision in the fight to protect the U.S. public — especially our kids – from the dangers of smoking. U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler found the major tobacco companies — including Altria (Philip Morris) and RJ Reynolds — guilty of organized criminal activity, also called civil racketeering. On August 17, 2006, she issued a final judgment in a 1,683-page opinion that found the companies had been covering up the health risks associated with smoking and marketing their products to children for decades.

Years before, executives from the tobacco industry stood before a congressional hearing and swore under oath that nicotine was not addictive. Judge Kessler's ruling detailed a decades-old, industrywide, organized plan to deceive the public by denying science, marketing their products to children and making false health claims about their products. Among scores of troubling facts, the ruling's findings included:

  • The tobacco companies "Concealed and Suppressed Research Data and Other Evidence that Nicotine Is Addictive."
  • The tobacco companies "Falsely Marketed and Promoted Low Tar/Light Cigarettes as Less Harmful than Full-Flavor Cigarettes in Order to Keep People Smoking and Sustain Corporate Revenues."
  • The tobacco companies "Have Publicly Denied What They Internally Acknowledged: that ETS (emitted tobacco smoke - secondhand smoke) Is Hazardous to Nonsmokers."
  • The tobacco companies' "Marketing Is a Substantial Contributing Factor to Youth Smoking Initiation."

As a result, the verdict (which was later upheld by a federal court of appeals) was final, ruling that: "The major cigarette manufacturers are racketeers who carried out a decades-long conspiracy to deceive the American public and target children with their deadly and addictive products."

The legal remedies recommended by Judge Kessler included:

  • Prohibiting the tobacco companies from committing acts of racketeering in the future or making false or deceptive health claims about their products.
  • Prohibiting terms including "low tar," "light" and "mild" that have been used to mislead consumers about the health risks of smoking.
  • Requiring the tobacco companies to make corrective statements through newspaper and television advertising, their web sites and as part of cigarette packaging that make clear their deceptive practices and misinformation regarding the health risks of smoking and secondhand smoke.

In 2005, the American Lung Association and five other public health organizations asked Judge Kessler to be named plaintiff-intervenors after the Department of Justice appeared to interfere with the important remedies phase of the lawsuit, a request that was granted. As plaintiff-intervenors, our organizations continue our responsibilities of representing the health of the American public before the court — even ten years later.

Why does this continue 10 years later? Because, the tobacco industry has never stopped fighting those corrective actions, including the corrective statements which have yet to be implemented. They have also continued their dirty tricks, but with a different set of products, many (like candy-flavored cigars) made to attract kids. Today, the tobacco industry is continuing to market to and addict young people to a wide variety of products, including cigars, e-cigarettes, pipe tobacco and hookah. Each of these carries health risks, and evidence shows, can serve as gateways to cigarette smoking.

To help prevent losing another generation to tobacco, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has asserted its authority to regulate all tobacco products, which now includes cigars, e-cigarettes and previously unregulated tobacco products. This includes a number of steps, geared to keeping kids off tobacco, including, no e-cigarette sales to anyone under 18, no free tobacco samples, and tobacco vending machine only allowed in adults-only establishments.

This authority went into effect on August 8, but the same companies found guilty of racketeering and their friends in Congress are working hard to overturn or weaken these protections.  We need your help to uphold FDA's authority and help protect our kids from an ever changing and enticing array of tobacco products.

Learn more:

Take action: Join our Lung Action Network and help protect our kids and the public health from tobacco's dirty tricks.

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