Tobacco cos. fire back on gov't-proposed ads
Thursday, March 3, 2011; 5:29 PM
RICHMOND, Va. -- The nation's largest cigarette manufacturers on Thursday said the Justice Department's proposed corrective statements about smoking's dangers are inflammatory and inaccurate and violate guidelines set by the court overseeing the lawsuit.
The tobacco companies, including Philip Morris USA, maker of top-selling Marlboro cigarettes, also asked a U.S. district judge to toss out the 12-year-old lawsuit, saying the Food and Drug Administration's authority over the industry makes the court's involvement unnecessary.
Last week, the Justice Department released 14 "corrective statements" that it says the companies should be required to make as part of the lawsuit. It wants the companies to admit that they lied to the public and would force the industry to pay for an advertising campaign of self-criticism.
But the companies said the proposed statements don't meet the court's requirements that the statements be "purely factual and uncontroversial." They also said the proposed statements are "plainly designed soley to shame and humiliate" the companies.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the tobacco industry's latest filings in the case.
The government's proposed statements cover the addictiveness of nicotine, the lack of health benefit from "low tar," "ultra-light" and "mild" cigarettes and negative health effects of second-hand smoke. The proposed statements are labeled "Paid for" by the name of the cigarette manufacturer "under order of a federal district court."
One of the government's statement says: "A federal court is requiring tobacco companies to tell the truth about cigarette smoking. Here's the truth: ... Smoking kills 1,200 Americans. Every day."
Another of the government's proposed statements begins: "We falsely marketed low tar and light cigarettes as less harmful than regular cigarettes to keep people smoking and sustain our profits."
"For decades, we denied that we controlled the level of nicotine delivered in cigarettes," a third statement says. "Here's the truth. ... We control nicotine delivery to create and sustain smokers' addiction, because that's how we keep customers coming back."
In 2006, the judge in the case, Gladys Kessler, ruled that the tobacco industry had concealed the dangers of smoking for decades. The proposed statements by the companies would be the remedy for that violation.
Kessler has said she wants the industry to pay for various types of ads, both broadcast and print, but she has not made a final decision on what the statements will say, where they must be placed or for how long.
The companies have escaped from having to pay the hundreds of billions of dollars that the government has sought to collect from them. Lower courts have said the government is not entitled to collect $280 billion in past profits or $14 billion for a national campaign to curb smoking.
Still, the companies argued Thursday that the FDA's authority to regulate the industry should eliminate the court's involvement and the corrective statements.
The FDA won the authority to regulate tobacco in June 2009. The law doesn't let the FDA ban nicotine or tobacco, just regulate what goes into tobacco products, require the ingredients be publicized and limit how tobacco is marketed, especially to young people.
The defendants in the case include Philip Morris USA's parent company, Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc.; Greensboro, N.C.-based Lorillard Inc., and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., and its parent company, Reynolds American Inc., based in Winston-Salem, N.C.
(This version CORRECTS 2nd paragraph to say request was made to district judge, not an appeals judge.)