DOJ Files New Federal Tobacco Lawsuit

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - Saying that "American taxpayers should not have to bear the responsibility for the staggering costs" of treating smoking illnesses, Attorney General Janet Reno announced Wednesday that the federal government would launch a new suit against cigarette manufacturers.

The suit seeks recompense for tobacco-related health costs, claiming that since the 1950s, tobacco companies mislead the government and the public about the risks of smoking.

"For more than 45 years, the cigarette companies conducted their business without regard to the truth, the law, or the health of the American people," said Reno.

The defendants include Philip Morris Inc.; Philip Morris Companies; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; American Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.; British-American Tobacco P.L.C.; British-American Tobacco (Investments) Ltd.; Lorillard Tobacco Co. Inc.; Liggett and Myers Inc.; The Council for Tobacco Research U.S.A. Inc.; and, the Tobacco Institute Inc.

Matthew Myers, general counsel and executive vice president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, applauded the lawsuit, saying in a release, "The American public wants action; it is important to public health not to let the industry off the hook for its decades of deception."

The American Lung Association concurred, and urged the Department of Justice "to press for full disclosure of all remaining tobacco company documents bearing on public health or tobacco industry misconduct."

Tobacco companies reacted to news of the suit with strongly-worded responses.

Brown and Williamson, a tobacco manufacturer, accused the Clinton White House of using the case to divert attention from other political issues.

"The White House has a pattern of attacking the tobacco industry when public attention is focused on other problems within the Administration," said the company in a release. "Now that Congress and the public are focusing on the handling of the Waco, Texas incident and the pardon of FALN terrorists, the Administration is again trying to divert public attention by bashing the tobacco industry."

Tommy Payne, executive vice president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, maker of the Winston, Camel, and Doral brands, told reporters, "We believe that when the law is applied and the case is judged on its merits - not on rhetoric or sound bites - the courts will find that the Justice Department doesn't have a valid case against the tobacco industry."

The lawsuit is the latest legal effort against the industry, which last year settled suits with more than 45 individual states. The industry also survived a legislative effort to enact high taxes and restrictions on advertising when it died in the Senate.