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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2526

Big Tobacco Guilty - US Racketeering Verdict

By Manjari Peiris

Starting on November 26, 2017, the major U.S. tobacco companies must begin running court-ordered advertisements on television and in newspapers that tell the American public the truth about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke, as well as the companies’ intentional design of cigarettes to make them more addictive.

The entire tobacco industry has been notorious of telling lies and half-truths about their products. Therefore the US Department of Justice filed against the tobacco companies in 1999.

The case resulted in a landmark 2006 judgment and opinion by US District Judge Gladys Kessler, who found the tobacco companies have violated civil racketeering laws (RICO) and engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to deceive the American public about the health effects of smoking and their marketing to children. The industry was asked to make corrective statements of their advertisements.

To prevent continued deception, Judge Kessler in 2006 ordered the tobacco companies to publish corrective statements on five topics about which they had deliberately deceived the public.

1. the adverse health effects of smoking

2. the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine

3. the lack of significant health benefits from smoking “low tar,” “light, “ultra light,” “mild” and “natural” cigarettes (which have been deceptively marketed as less harmful than regular cigarettes)

4. the manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery

5. the adverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.

For the past 11 years, the tobacco companies have filed appeal after appeal and repeatedly sought to water down and delay the corrective statements. They ended their appeals earlier this year, and the judge overseeing the case issued an order directing them to begin running the corrective statement advertisements.

The racketeering trial lasted from September 2004 to June 2005. In July 2005, Judge Kessler granted a motion by several public health groups to intervene in the case in order to argue for strong remedies. These groups are the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund (a 501(c)(4) affiliate of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids), American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights and National African American Tobacco Prevention Network.

On August 17, 2006, Judge Kessler issued her verdict against the major U.S. tobacco companies. In a 1,683-page opinion, Judge Kessler detailed how the tobacco companies “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.”

Importantly, Judge Kessler concluded, “The evidence in this case clearly establishes that Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity…. Their continuing misconduct misleads consumers in order to maximize Defendants’ revenues by recruiting new smokers (the majority of whom are under the age of 18), preventing current smokers from quitting, and thereby sustaining the industry.”

In May 2009, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously upheld Judge Kessler’s judgment and almost all of her remedies, including the corrective statements. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals in the case.

.The advertisements will run in print and online in about 50 newspapers, including major daily newspapers and African-American and Hispanic community newspapers. They will also run for one year on the major television networks during prime time. The tobacco companies must also publish the corrective statements on their websites and cigarette packs, but the implementation details are still being finalized.

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