Justice Department sues big tobacco firms
September 22, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Wednesday against major tobacco companies, asking for billions of dollars to recover federal smoking-related health care costs.
The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, alleging that cigarette companies have conspired since the 1950s to defraud and mislead the American public about the effects of smoking.
"The U.S. government alleges that for the past 45 years, the companies that manufacture and sell tobacco have waged an intentional and coordinated campaign of deceit," said Attorney General Janet Reno.
Reno said the tobacco companies were motivated by greed.
"It has been a campaign designed to preserve their enormous profits, whatever the costs in human lives, human suffering and in medical resources," Reno said.
The attorney general said tobacco companies have known for years that cigarettes were dangerous, but didn't want to lose money.
"The cigarette makers have also realized since 1953 that the truth represents a mortal threat to their business," Reno said. "At every turn, they denied that smoking causes disease and denied that it is addictive."
Reno said the consequences of the tobacco industry's alleged actions have been staggering, with 400,000 Americans dying each year from cigarette-related illnesses. She said the federal government spends more than $20 billion a year in taxpayer money to treat those diseases.
It is that money the Justice Department is suing to recoup.
"Today we filed a lawsuit that seeks to recover from the tobacco companies the billions of dollars that American taxpayers spend each year on smoke-related illnesses," Reno said.
Reno said that over the years, the tab for smoking-related illnesses has accumulated, and taxpayers have footed the bill.
"On behalf of the taxpayer, we're asking the tobacco companies to pay their fair share," Reno said.
The Justice Department alleges that internal documents show that top tobacco executives met at the Plaza Hotel in New York City in January 1954 and agreed to wage a long-term public relations campaign of fraud and deception.
"We allege that in carrying out that campaign, they pulled no punches," Acting Assistant Attorney General David Ogden, told a news conference Wednesday. "For decades they repeatedly and consistently denied that smoking cigarettes causes disease, despite their knowledge that it does."
The suit names Philip Morris Inc.; Philip Morris Companies; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; American Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. Inc.; Liggett and Myers Inc.; The Council for Tobacco Research U.S.A. Inc.; and the Tobacco Institute Inc.
This report was written by Amanda Barnett
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