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WASHINGTON -- Government lawyers told a federal judge Thursday they had made the case that the tobacco industry conspired for decades to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking, reported the Associated Press. Leading cigarette makers contended the government had failed to prove anything in the $280 billion racketeering case.
Both sides provided U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler with interim summaries in the trial, which began in September and is expected to last several more months.
Justice Department lawyer Stephen Brody said that while the industry did not admit that smoking causes cancer until about five years ago, there was a consensus long before that.
Brody directed Kessler to the testimony of William Farone, a former Philip Morris scientist who worked at the company in the 1970s and 1980s. Farone said it was “widely accepted internally” that smoking causes disease.
Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. lawyer David Bernick said even though the industry maintained for years that there was no conclusive link between smoking and disease, the public never bought the argument -- meaning no one was defrauded.
He said that was evident from the decline in smoking that followed a 1964 surgeon general's report linking smoking to cancer. Kessler asked how the industry could argue that the companies' point of view was legitimate if average citizens were so sure smoking causes cancer. “How can you have it both ways?” she asked.
Brody also reminded the judge of the industry's public pledge in 1953 to fund research into “all phases of tobacco use and health.”
The industry compared the effort to a crusade, to which Brody responded: “It wasn't a crusade for research. It was a crusade for profits on the sale of cigarettes.”
The government is seeking $280 billion it alleges the company made through fraud. The judge also could impose new restrictions on the companies.
The case comes six years after the states reached legal settlements with the industry worth $246 billion, aimed at recouping healthcare costs.