Cigarette Companies Committed Fraud, Appeals Court Agrees

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., has upheld a district court's finding that major U.S. tobacco firms intentionally misled the public about the health hazards of cigarettes, Bloomberg reported May 22.

“The district court found — permissibly in our view — that the enterprise had the common purpose of obtaining cigarette proceeds by defrauding existing and potential smokers,” the appeals court said in a 3-0 decision in upholding U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, who in 2006 ruled that Big Tobacco firms engaged in racketeering and were likely to do so again in the future.

In her ruling, Kessler ordered tobacco companies to stop using terms like “light” and “low tar” to market cigarettes. The appeals court agreed with Kessler's demands that the companies also be forced to publicly acknowledge their past lies about nicotine addiction and the health hazards of smoking and secondhand smoke, manipulation of nicotine levels in cigarettes, and the fact that so-called “light” and “low-tar” cigarettes are as dangerous as “regular” cigarettes.

Cigarette makers Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco said they would appeal the latest ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The court's conclusions are not supported by the law or the evidence presented at trial, and we believe the exceptional importance of these issues justifies further review,” said Murray Garnick, a lawyer for Philip Morris parent company, Altria.

The U.S. Justice Department, which sued the tobacco industry under federal racketeering laws, called the latest ruling “a victory for the American people that bans the use of misleading terms such as 'light and low tar,' and provides the government with the ability to pursue these companies should they continue with their deceptive practices.”

However, the appeals court turned down a government request to impose other sanctions against the industry, such as a counter-marketing plan and a nationwide smoking-cessation program, which Kessler had denied in the original trial. 

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