Big Tobacco Asks to Keep 'Lights'
Friday, September 1, 2006; 6:23 PM
WASHINGTON -- Top tobacco companies urged a federal judge Friday to put her landmark judgment against the industry on hold and let them keep selling "light" and "low tar" cigarettes until they've had a chance to appeal.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler sided with the federal government two weeks ago, ruling that the major cigarette manufacturers violated racketeering laws. She said the companies conspired for decades to mislead the public about the health hazards of smoking.
Kessler rejected a bid by the Justice Department to make the companies pay billions of dollars to fund smoking cessation efforts. However, she banned the use of labels such as "low-tar" and "light," saying they were misleading.
In their filing Friday, the tobacco companies said they will lose customers to smaller cigarette makers, who weren't part of the civil suit and can still use those terms.
Plus, they said repackaging and re-marketing some of their brands would cost up to hundreds of millions of dollars.
The companies also asked Kessler to suspend her order forcing them to publish "corrective statements" about nicotine addiction and the health effects and smoking.
"Once forced to make these public statements, defendants will be effectively unable to take them back, even if their anticipated appeal is successful," the companies wrote.
They also said there should be no concerns about waiting until an appeal is decided because "the public is overwhelmingly aware of the health risks of smoking" and since a 1998 agreement between the states and the companies led to some marketing restrictions on the industry.
The Justice Department had no comment Friday on the request.
The filing came one day after the companies asked the judge to clarify whether her order extends to their international businesses.
The defendants are: Philip Morris USA Inc. and its parent, Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.; British American Tobacco Ltd.; Lorillard Tobacco Co.; Liggett Group Inc.; Counsel for Tobacco Research-U.S.A.; and the now-defunct Tobacco Institute.
The only cigarette maker excluded from Kessler's ruling was Liggett. Kessler credited Liggett with coming forward in the 1990s to admit smoking causes disease and is addictive, among other things.
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