U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has ordered the nation's largest and most powerful cigarette manufacturers to publish notices admitting that they manipulated cigarettes to make them more addictive and that smoking causes an average of 1200 American deaths a day.
The federal government brought this case in 1999 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act of 1970. Judge Kessler wrote in her 2006 findings of fact and conclusions of law that “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.” She then found that the defendant tobacco companies had conspired to lie to and defraud the public about the dangers of smoking and the addictive properties of cigarettes.
These findings echo the allegations in a series of civil lawsuits brought against the cigarette industry in the late 1990s by various state attorneys general. Those lawsuits argued that massive public fraud by cigarette makers had burdened and would continue to burden taxpayers because the state public health care systems ultimately would bear the brunt of treating smoking-related illnesses. The various state lawsuits were resolved in 1998 by the historic "Master Settlement Agreement" which, among other provisions, did away with “Joe the Camel” and required the tobacco companies to dismantle the industry-run propaganda operation known as the “Tobacco Institute.”
Today's order compels the defendant cigarette companies to publish certain statements acknowledging Judge Kessler's 2006 findings, including the following:
- "Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day."
- "Defendant tobacco companies intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive."
- "There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke."