Tobacco Escapes Huge Penalty
The Justice Department yesterday dropped its demand that the tobacco companies pay $130 billion for smoking cessation programs to a much more modest $10 billion over the next five years.
Tobacco Escapes Huge Penalty (WaPo, A1)
After eight months of courtroom argument, Justice Department lawyers abruptly upset a landmark civil racketeering case against the tobacco industry yesterday by asking for less than 8 percent of the expected penalty. As he concluded closing arguments in the six-year-old lawsuit, Justice Department lawyer Stephen D. Brody shocked tobacco company representatives and anti-tobacco activists by announcing that the government will not seek the $130 billion that a government expert had testified was necessary to fund smoking-cessation programs. Instead, Brody said, the Justice Department will ask tobacco companies to pay $10 billion over five years to help millions of Americans quit smoking.
“It feels like a political decision to take into consideration the tobacco companies’ financial interest rather than health interests of 45 million addicted smokers,” said William V. Corr, director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “The government proved its case, but the levels of funding are a shadow of the cessation treatment program that the government’s own expert witness recommended.”
William B. Schultz, a former Justice Department official who oversaw the lawsuit under the Clinton administration, said that “it’s disappointing, to say the least, that at the final stages of this litigation they have pulled their punches in such a significant way. This is the loss of a significant opportunity to advance public health. Smoking is the number one preventable disease. It kills 400,000 people a year.” Lead government attorney Sharon Eubanks had summed up the trial early yesterday, saying the government had proved the industry engaged in a “decades-long pattern of . . . misrepresentations, half-truths, deceptions and lies that continue to this day.”
While it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for the tobacco companies, the argument that these lawsuits are having any effect on public health is absurd. The payouts have mostly been expropriated for general revenues at the state level, with much less than the agreed upon amounts going to cessation programs and tobacco related health issues.