Friday, August 18, 2006

U.S. Wins RICO Case Against Tobacco Companies -- And the Opinion Will Cure Insomnia

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in favor of the federal government in its massive RICO case against the tobacco companies alleging that they engaged in misleading conduct for decades as part of a broad conspiracy (U.S. v. Philip Morris USA, et al. here).  The opinion may be nearly as dangerous to the environment as smoking, coming in at 1,653 pages, not counting the appendices, so that's a whole lot of trees.  The table of contents alone is 29 pages, although there are only 58 footnotes. 

Judge Kessler ruled earlier in the case that the government could not seek disgorgement of the profits made by the defendant cigarette manufacturers under RICO, which was affirmed by the D.C. Circuit (396 F.3d 1190), and the Supreme Court rejected the government's certiorari petition in October 2005.  With disgorgement knocked out, the remedial portion of the opinion comes off as almost anti-climactic:

[T]he Court is enjoining Defendants from further use of deceptive brand descriptors which implicitly or explicitly convey to the smoker and potential smoker that they are less hazardous to health than full flavor cigarettes, including the popular descriptors “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light,” “mild,” and “natural.” The Court is also ordering Defendants to issue corrective statements in major newspapers, on the three leading television networks, on cigarette “onserts,” and in retail displays, regarding (1) the adverse health effects of smoking; (2) the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine; (3) the lack of any significant health benefit from smoking “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light,” “mild,” and “natural” cigarettes; (4) Defendants’ manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery; and (5) the adverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.

As a reformed smoker, these don't mean very much to me.  For those interested in reviewing documents related to the tobacco litigation -- assuming the opinion just whets your appetite -- the Department of Justice has a webpage with links to documents and testimony (here).  (ph)

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