Justice Department Wants Public Release of Tobacco Warning Statements

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department plans to ask a federal judge to make public the proposed statements the government wants tobacco companies to publish about the dangers of their products.

Department spokesman Charles Miller said the agency planned to file the proposed statements in a Washington, D.C., court Thursday, but ran into resistance from cigarette makers about whether the information should be made public now.

“It was our understanding that this would be publicly filed, but there is a difference of opinion on that,” Mr. Miller said.

He said the agency will now raise the issue with U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, who ruled in 2006 that tobacco companies violated federal racketeering laws by engaging in a decades-long scheme to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking.

Among the penalties Judge Kessler imposed was a requirement that cigarette makers issue corrective statements about the dangers of their products, to appear on television and in newspapers, product packaging and retail displays.

The Justice Department Thursday was to submit the language that it believes should be included in those corrective statements.

Lawyers representing tobacco-company defendants said they believed the department was required to confer with them before the proposed statements are eventually released publicly.

“We have a meet and confer process that we have been following on a number of issues, as the court knows,” said Miguel Estrada, a lawyer representing Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris subsidiary. “I expect we will have the same process when the government gives us their proposal on corrective statements, which we have not seen yet.”

The Justice Department has said it has fundamental disagreements with the companies about the purpose of the corrective statements.

The companies will have a chance to lodge legal objections to the statements once the department proposes them.

Another issue is the effect of intervening regulations by the Food and Drug Administration.

In 2009 Congress gave the FDA wide authority to regulate the tobacco industry, including a requirement that companies place large, graphic health warnings on cigarette packs.

The FDA last November proposed draft warning labels that could include graphic images depicting dead bodies and diseased lungs. The agency’s proposal is not yet final.

The Justice Department’s long-running tobacco case dates back to 1999, when the Clinton administration alleged that nine tobacco companies and two related trade associations engaged in a 50-year conspiracy to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking. A nine-month trial took place in 2005.

Other defendants in the case include Reynolds American Inc.’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; British American Tobacco (Investments) Ltd., a subsidiary of British American Tobacco PLC; and Lorillard Tobacco Co., a unit of Lorillard Inc.

source: online.wsj.com

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