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Tobacco Industry Found Guilty of Racketeering

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On August 17th, 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler made her final ruling in the case of the United States v Philip Morris & other major tobacco companies. After 6 years of litigation, nine months of trial, and thousands of pages of evidence, Judge Kessler found the defendants (the major tobacco companies) guilty on numerous counts of fraud and racketeering. Importantly, she also found that these illegal and fraudulent actions are continuing and are likely to continue in the future. Although this legal case may not be directly relevant to helping individual smokers to quit (and, as always, is being appealed), I think the case, and Judge Kessler’s conclusions should be of interest to anyone who has smoked or has a family member who smokes. Judge Kessler carefully explained her Opinion in this case in a 1,700-page document that really helps us understand the true nature of the tobacco industry. I believe this case and the ruling didn’t get as much publicity as it deserved, perhaps because the case and the final ruling were so detailed that few (including myself) would be able to follow it all. So I’m going to try to summarize the main points, structured around 7 areas in which the tobacco industry were found to have defrauded the American public:

  • The Hazards of Smoking: Judge Kessler found that the industry had known for 50 years that cigarette smoking caused diseases, but repeatedly denied the adverse health effects. “They mounted a coordinated, well financed, sophisticated public relations campaign to attack and distort the scientific evidence demonstrating the relationship between smoking and disease.”
  • Addiction: Judge Kessler concluded that the tobacco industry had known for 40 years that nicotine in tobacco causes cigarettes to be addictive but also withheld information about their research from the American public. “For approximately 40 years, Defendants publicly, vehemently, and repeatedly denied the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine’s central role in smoking.”
  • Nicotine Levels: Judge Kessler concluded that tobacco manufacturers control nicotine levels in cigarettes to ensure that smokers become and stay addicted. “The words of Defendants themselves establish that the goal of their extensive efforts…to control the levels of nicotine delivery was to ensure that smokers obtain sufficient nicotine to create and sustain addiction.”
  • Light Cigarettes: The tobacco companies misled consumers into believing that so-called low tar and light cigarettes are healthier than other cigarettes and an acceptable alternative to quitting.
  • Marketing to Youth: Judge Kessler concluded that tobacco companies create sophisticated marketing campaigns to get young people to start and continue smoking, so as to replace those who die or quit. “The evidence is clear and convincing- and beyond any reasonable doubt – that Defendants have marketed to young people 21 and under while consistently, publicly, and falsely, denying they do so.”
  • Secondhand Smoke: Judge Kessler concluded that the tobacco industry has long known that secondhand smoke is hazardous to non-smokers and were aware that this information could harm their profits. They therefore sought to undermine and suppress research and trivialize it in the mind of the public. Judge Kessler pointed out that this effort to minimize the effects of secondhand smoke continues to this day.
  • Suppression of Information: Judge Kessler concluded that for over 50 years the tobacco industry tried to protect itself from litigation by concealing research, destroying documents, and trying to shield documents from the public by pretending that they were “privileged” and protected by law.
To some of you this may not be totally surprising. What is new about this is that rather than it being something we may suspect, it is something that has been proven in a court of law. Not only are public health advocates claiming that the tobacco industry has committed these illegal acts, but a senior judge, having reviewed all the evidence, has come to the conclusion that the tobacco industry is guilty on 7 counts of fraud and racketeering. And what are the consequences for the industry for causing the premature deaths of tens of millions of Americans? This judgment concluded that they would not face any financial penalties, but should stop doing it in the future! Maybe you, like me, don’t think the punishment fits the crime in this case. Maybe you think it doesn’t really matter. But if you or a member of your family picked up a Camel or a Marlboro over the past 50 years there’s a good chance that your health or the health of a loved one was harmed more than it should have been by fraudulent activities by the tobacco companies. I think it is outrageous that they are still getting away with it. What do you think?

More information on this case is available at: Tobacco Law Center
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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