Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 3 - November 2010
Summary - Homepage - Free subscription

The United States Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal on Kessler decision

American cigarette manufacturers broke anti-racketeering laws, but they don’t have to pay a fine… And that’s the end of that

On June 28, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal simultaneously sought by the US federal government and cigarette manufacturers concerning the ruling rendered in 2006 by Judge Gladys Kessler of the Federal Court of the District of Columbia, in Washington. The highest court in the US thus brought an end to a legal saga that began 11 years ago.

In a 1,653 page ruling, which had temporarily closed proceedings opened by the Attorney General of the United States Janet Reno in 1999, Judge Kessler concluded that the major cigarette manufacturers had introduced and marketed their lethal products with zeal and deception with the sole purpose of increasing profits.

Judge Kessler went on to write that “Over the course of more than 50 years, defendants lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public, including smokers and the young people they avidly sought as replacement smokers, about the devastating health effects of smoking and environmental tobacco smoke. [Furthermore], they suppressed research, destroyed documents, manipulated the use of nicotine in order to increase and perpetuate addiction and they distorted the truth about low tar and light cigarettes so as to discourage smokers from quitting. They abused the legal system in order to achieve their goal — to make money with little, if any, regard for individual illness and suffering, soaring health costs or the integrity of the legal system.”

In spite of this overpowering verdict, large cigarette manufacturers escaped major financial penalties for their past violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The appeal of the cigarette manufacturers sought to clear its reputations and contest the 2006 verdict. The appeal of the federal department of justice and health groups, on the other hand, contested the sentence seeking forfeit of part or all of the $289 billion in profit acquired by the cigarette manufacturers through its violations of the RICO Act. Both appeals went unheard.

Important observations from the Kessler decision, however, appeared in the preamble of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, adopted by Congress and signed by the White House in June 2009. This is the legislation that has enabled recent FDA regulations on flavouring, advertising and reporting.

– by Pierre Croteau