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Editorials



Tuesday, June 14, 2005



OUR OPINION


Justice bows to Big Tobacco
in racketeering case

THE ISSUE

Government lawyers are asking $10 billion in tobacco revenues instead of $130 billion to fund a smoking cessation program.

THE Justice Department's retreat from goals set in a civil racketeering lawsuit against Big Tobacco has delighted the tobacco companies. It might shortchange efforts to help smokers quit and prevent young people from taking their first puff. A federal judge presiding over the case risks being called an activist if she refuses to adhere to what appears to be a politically motivated decision of the Bush administration.

Government lawyers had indicated they would ask U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler to require the tobacco industry to pay $130 billion over a 25-year period to finance a stop-smoking program. Instead, Stephen D. Brody, a government lawyer, asked for only $10 billion of tobacco money to be paid out over five years.

More then 70 percent of the 45 million Americans who smoke want to quit, according to studies. Michael C. Fiore, an expert on the tobacco industry, testified for the government that a program including a telephone help line, access to medical treatment, counseling and a budget for advertising and promotion would cost $2.5 billion a year for 25 years to be effective.

Observers on both sides of the issue -- and the judge -- were startled by the government's drastic departure from Fiore's recommendation. "Perhaps it suggests that additional influences have been brought to bear on what the government's case is," Judge Kessler said.

Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum said the Justice Department decided it could seek money to cover stop-smoking programs only for people who become addicted in the near future. McCallum is a former partner in an Atlanta law firm that represented tobacco company R.J. Reynolds.

Government lawyers also had asked two of their witnesses to soften recommendations about sanctions on tobacco companies, according to the Washington Post. Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, refused to depart from his written testimony.

Myers testified that a provision of the 1998 settlement between states and the tobacco industry banning the targeting of youth in advertising, promotion or marketing of tobacco products has been ineffective because it is virtually impossible to prove the companies' intent.

Myers called for restrictions on "image advertising," which plays on young people's "desire to enhance their image of themselves as rebellious, fiercely independent, risk-taking and cool."

Cigarette ads that appeal to young people include those for sub-brands of Camels advertised in magazines, Myers said. He cited Mocha Mint and Winter Toffee, and they also include "Kauai Kolada" Camels said to be flavored with "Hawaiian hints of pineapple and coconut."

Governor Lingle has complained that using Kauai and Hawaii images to promote cigarettes is "disgusting." The Justice Department takes the position that Myers' recommended restriction would violate the tobacco companies' free-speech rights, discounting any notion of a compelling government interest in the health of America's youth.






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