Federal Judge Slams Big Tobacco

WASHINGTON A federal judge yesterday ordered Big Tobacco to fund a new national advertising campaign that portrays the adverse effects of smoking and to stop labeling cigarettes as “light,” “low tar” or “natural.”

Cigarette companies also must stop using “deceptive brand descriptors that implicitly or explicitly convey to the smoker and potential smoker that they are less hazardous to health than full-flavor cigarettes,” said Judge Gladys Kessler of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

Those rulings concluded a racketeering case brought by the U.S. Department of Justice against the tobacco industry.

The companies now must place weekly full-page ads in Sunday editions of more than two-dozen major newspapers, in addition to running weekly 15-second spots in primetime, Judge Kessler said. The newspapers ads must run for two years, the TV spots for one year, she said.

Although the judge said tobacco concerns “marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success and without regard for human tragedy,” she stopped short of requiring them to fund a multibillion-dollar anti-smoking program. Kessler said she lacked the power to impose monetary damages on that scale.

The companies named in the lawsuit included Batco; Brown & Williamson; Lorillard; Philip Morris (along with its parent Altria); and R.J. Reynolds. Liggett was also originally a defendant, but the judge excluded the company from the ruling on the grounds that it did not have “a reasonable likelihood of future violations.”

An R.J. Reynolds representative said in a statement issued to the Associated Press that the company was “gratified that the court did not award unjustified and extraordinarily expensive monetary penalties.”

While analysts doubt the rulings would hurt tobacco company profits, one notable advocacy group reacted with disappointment.

“The decision did not bring any significant financial penalties against the industry for its culpability in damaging our nation’s collective public health,” said the American Legacy Foundation, in a statement. Legacy produces the national “Truth” anti-smoking campaign.