On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit handed down a ruling that tobacco companies must tell the public that cigarettes are designed to be addictive. However, the tobacco industry doesn’t have to tell the truth about past actions. The opinion’s author, Judge David Tatel, wrote that the court decided that, while the labeling and advertising needed to focus on preventing future bad conduct, it didn’t have to rehash the fact that the industry lied about the dangers of smoking for years.
This ruling stems from a case filed in 1999 by the U.S. government. The DOJ filed racketeering charges again several companies, including Philip Morris USA, Altria Group, Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The claim stated that the tobacco industry participated in a years-long conspiracy of deception as it lied to consumers about the dangers of smoking.
A federal trial judge in Washington, Gladys Kessler, ruled on the case in 2006. She ordered the defendants to conduct advertising campaigns (television, newspapers, the internet and cigarette pack inserts) telling the truth about smoking. That truth was to include the negative impacts of smoking, the real story of “light” and “low-tar” cigarettes and the manipulation of nicotine level in the defendant’s products.
Tobacco companies have deep pockets and hefty budgets for legal defense. It’s not surprising they pushed this case into appeals (one of many, by the way). The surprising thing is that the three-judge panel ruled the way it did. The tobacco industry pulled the wool over our eyes for years, causing disease, suffering and death and now it gets to behave as though none of that happened. Or, is continuing to happen, as the overall “formula” for cigarettes really hasn’t undergone that much change.
Instead, all that must be done to satisfy the RICO prevention requirements is the label about cigarettes being addictive. It’s a place to start.