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RICHMOND, Va. -- A judge has taken the wraps off "corrective statements" the Justice Department suggests tobacco companies to make as part of a long-running lawsuit dating back to 1999. However, the proposed statements are not being met with open arms.
In a company statement, Philip Morris USA and its parent company, Altria Group Inc., expressed concerned about the "corrective statements," contending the statements go beyond factual and scientific information.
"We have no concerns about communicating the health effects of tobacco products. We agree with the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, and other serious diseases in smokers and is addictive," said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel. "Philip Morris USA currently communicates this information in a number of ways, including its Web site.
"Furthermore, Philip Morris USA supported federal regulation of tobacco products by the FDA, which is charged with ensuring scientifically accurate communications about tobacco products to adult consumers," he added.
According to the Associated Press, the Justice Department has proposed statements that tobacco companies should use in advertising campaigns. One statement reads: "A federal court is requiring tobacco companies to tell the truth about cigarette smoking. Here's the truth:…Smoking kills 1,200 Americans. Every day."
Another proposed statement reads" "For decades, we denied that we controlled the level of nicotine delivered in cigarettes. Here is the truth … We control nicotine delivery to create and sustain smokers' addiction because that's how we keep customers coming back."
Philip Morris USA said it will work with the Justice Department and would fight the proposal if the time comes. "The Department of Justice proposal would compel the companies to admit wrongdoing under threat of contempt," said Garnick. "Such a proposal is unprecedented in our legal system and would violate basic constitutional and statutory standards. The proposal would violate the court of appeals' decision in this case, which held that any corrective statements must be purely factual and uncontroversial. The government's proposal is neither.
"We will work with the Department of Justice, and if necessary," challenge the proposal at the appropriate time," he added.
The lawsuit has its origins in the Clinton administration. In 1999, the federal government filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against several tobacco companies, including Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard Tobacco Co. and British American Tobacco seeking to force the companies to fund a smoking cessation program and other remedies, according to Reuters. The government's dollar demands decreased from $280 billion to $14 billion under the Bush administration.
In 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, who made this week's ruling to unseal the "corrective statements", ruled that the companies broke the law and could no longer use such descriptions as "low tar" or "light" in cigarette marketing. Kessler also ruled that she could not force the companies to fund a smoking cessation program; this decision was upheld by an appeals' court. In June 2010, the Supreme Court denied the parties’ (DOJ and defendants) cert petitions, and the case has been remanded back down to the district court for further proceedings.