ANR Intervenes in DOJ Suit Against Big Tobacco

ANR UPDATE, 24(3), Fall 2005

In 1999, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) brought a civil lawsuit in Federal District Court against the major tobacco companies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, alleging that the companies had engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to defraud and deceive the American public about the health hazards of smoking. The DOJ originally sought, among other things, damages in the amount of $280 Billion, representing the profits the tobacco companies illegally obtained through their fraud. However, in February of this year, a Federal Court of Appeals ruled that the RICO Act does not permit such damages for past conduct, but rather only allows remedies to prevent future violations of the Act. This ruling is now being appealed by the DOJ to the United States Supreme Court.

The DOJ then sought other remedies it considered to be permissible under the Court of Appeals ruling, including the establishment of a smoking cessation fund, and it presented evidence that a successful cessation program would require $130 Billion over 25 years. However, at literally the last minute - during closing arguments on June 7 - the DOJ announced that it was seeking only $10 Billion over five years. Public outcry ensued, with charges that the Justice Department was watering down its case because of political interference, and there were Congressional calls for an investigation. Three weeks later the DOJ slightly increased the amount sought for the cessation program, but it also omitted other remedies it had previously sought and which were recommended by its own expert witnesses.

Two days later, ANR and five other public health organizations, Tobacco Free Kids Action Fund, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, filed a motion to intervene in the case, for the purpose of being heard on the issue of remedies. As stated in ANR's court filings, "[b]ecause the United States no longer seeks adequate remedies to redress the injuries [specified], ANR believes that the interests of its members are no longer being adequately represented in this action." On July 22, the Federal District Court granted the motion, stating that "[i]n a case of this magnitude, which could potentially affect the health and welfare of the American public, as well as the American economy (given our enormous annual expenditures on health care), it will serve the public interest for major public health organizations, such as the Intervenors, who have long experience with smoking and health issues, to contribute their perspectives on what appropriate and legally permissible remedies may be imposed should liability be found."

Read more about the DOJ case in our Media Center!

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