2006 Judge Kessler’s Final Opinion
US District Court Judge
On September 22, 1999, the United States brought this massive lawsuit against nine cigarette manufacturers of cigarettes and two tobacco-related trade organizations. The Government alleged that Defendants have violated, and continue to violate, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968, by engaging in a lengthy, unlawful conspiracy to deceive the American public about the health effects of smoking and environmental tobacco smoke, the addictiveness of nicotine, the health benefits from low tar, “light” cigarettes, and their manipulation of the design and composition of cigarettes in order to sustain nicotine addiction. As Justice O’Connor noted in Food and Drug Administration, et al. v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, et al., 529 U.S. 120, 125 (2000), “[t]his case involves one of the most troubling public health problems facing our Nation today: the thousands of premature deaths that occur each year because of tobacco use.”
In particular, the Government has argued that, for approximately fifty years, the Defendants have falsely and fraudulently denied: (1) that smoking causes lung cancer and emphysema (also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”)), as well as many other types of cancer; (2) that environmental tobacco smoke causes lung cancer and endangers the respiratory and auditory systems of children; (3) that nicotine is a highly addictive drug which they manipulated in order to sustain addiction; (4) that they marketed and promoted low tar/light cigarettes as less harmful when in fact they were not; (5) that they intentionally marketed to young people under the age of twentyone and denied doing so; and (6) that they concealed evidence, destroyed documents, and abused the attorney-client privilege to prevent the public from knowing about the dangers of smoking and to protect the industry from adverse litigation results.
The following voluminous Findings of Fact demonstrate that there is overwhelming evidence to support most of the Government’s allegations. As the Conclusions of Law explain in great detail, the Government has established that Defendants (1) have conspired together to violate the substantive provisions of RICO, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1962 (d), and (2) have in fact violated those provisions of the statute, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1962 (c). Accordingly, the Court is entering a Final Judgment and Remedial Order which seeks to prevent and restrain any such violations of RICO in the future.
In particular, the Court is enjoining Defendants from further use of deceptive brand descriptors which implicitly or explicitly convey to the smoker and potential smoker that they are less hazardous to health than full flavor cigarettes, including the popular descriptors “low tar,”
“light,” “ultra light,” “mild,” and “natural.” The Court is also ordering Defendants to issue corrective statements in major newspapers, on the three leading television networks, on cigarette “onserts,” and in retail displays, regarding (1) the adverse health effects of smoking; (2) the
addictiveness of smoking and nicotine; (3) the lack of any significant health benefit from smoking “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light,” “mild,” and “natural” cigarettes; (4) Defendants’ manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery; and (5) the dverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Finally, the Court is ordering Defendants to disclose their disaggregated marketing data to the Government in the same form and on the same schedule which they now follow in disclosing this material to the Federal Trade Commission. All such data shall be deemed confidential” and “highly sensitive trade secret information” subject to the protective Orders which have long been in place in this litigation.
Unfortunately, a number of significant remedies proposed by the Government could not be considered by the Court because of a ruling by the Court of Appeals in United States v. Philip Morris, USA, Inc., et al., 396 F.3d 1196 (D.C. Cir. 2005). In that opinion, the Court held that, because the RICO statute allows only forward-looking remedies to prevent and restrain violations of the Act, and does not allow backward-looking remedies, disgorgement (i.e., forfeiture of ill-gotten gains from past conduct) is not a permissible remedy.
Applying this same legal standard, as it is bound to do, this Court was also precluded from considering other remedies proposed by the Government, such as a comprehensive smoker cessation program to help those addicted to nicotine fight their habit, a counter marketing program run by an independent entity to combat Defendants’ seductive appeals to the youth market; and a schedule of monetary penalties for failing to meet pre-set goals for reducing the incidence of youth smoking.
The seven-year history of this extraordinarily complex case involved the exchange of millions of documents, the entry of more than 1,000 Orders, and a trial which lasted approximately nine months with 84 witnesses testifying in open court. Those statistics, and the mountains of paper and millions of dollars of billable lawyer hours they reflect, should not, however, obscure what this case is really about. It is about an industry, and in particular these Defendants, that survives, and profits, from selling a highly addictive product which causes diseases that lead to a staggering number of deaths per year, an immeasurable amount of human suffering and economic loss, and a profound burden on our national health care system. Defendants have known many of these facts for at least 50 years or more. Despite that knowledge, they have consistently, repeatedly, and with enormous skill and sophistication, denied these facts to the public, to the Government, and to the
public health community. Moreover, in order to sustain the economic viability of their companies, Defendants have denied that they marketed and advertised their products to children under the age of eighteen and to young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one in order to ensure an adequate supply of “replacement smokers,” as older ones fall by the wayside through death, illness, or cessation of smoking. In short, Defendants have marketed and sold their lethal product 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.
Finally, a word must be said about the role of lawyers in this fifty-year history of deceiving smokers, potential smokers, and the American public about the hazards of smoking and second hand smoke, and the addictiveness of nicotine. At every stage, lawyers played an absolutely central role in the creation and perpetuation of the Enterprise and the implementation of its fraudulent schemes. They devised and coordinated both national and international strategy; they directed scientists as to what research they should and should not undertake; they vetted scientific research papers and reports as well as public relations materials to ensure that the interests of the Enterprise would be
protected; they identified “friendly” scientific witnesses, subsidized them with grants from the Center for Tobacco Research and the Center for Indoor Air Research, paid them enormous fees, and often hid the relationship between those witnesses and the industry; and they devised and carried out document destruction policies and took shelter behind baseless assertions of the attorney client privilege.
What a sad and disquieting chapter in the history of an honorable and often courageous profession.
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