WASHINGTON Oct 15 U.S. tobacco companies told a
federal judge on Monday they should not be required to tell the
public they manipulated nicotine levels to make cigarettes more
addictive, or that they repeatedly lied about the health effects
of light cigarettes.
The companies - including Altria Group Inc and
Reynolds American Inc - have been fighting with the U.S.
Justice Department for six years about the wording of what are
known as "corrective statements."
The statements are part of the penalty the companies must
pay after U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, in a historic 2006
decision, found that the tobacco industry engaged in a
multi-decade fraud to deceive the public.
Labels with the statements are set to run eventually in
newspapers, on cigarette packaging and elsewhere.
The labels are separate from those that have run on U.S.
cigarette packaging for decades, and from new graphic labels
proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Although Kessler's decision concluded that the companies
manipulated nicotine and lied about health effects - and an
appeals court upheld her decision - the companies maintain they
did nothing wrong.
To force the companies to advertise those conclusions would
mean spreading a message they do not believe, in violation of
their speech rights, Noel Francisco, a lawyer for several
companies, said at a hearing on Monday.
"Simply because the court found it, doesn't mean it can
force us to say it," Francisco told Kessler. The statements need
to be purely factual and non-controversial, he said.
A Justice Department lawyer said the proposed statements are
factual, based on Kessler's 2006 decision, and that the public
needs to be aware of the extent of the companies' lying.
"The tobacco companies would love these statements to be
generic health warnings. They would love these statements to be
about their products and not about them," said the Justice
Department's Daniel Crane-Hirsch.
Kessler said she would rule on the proposed wording of the
"corrective statements" soon.
The dispute is the latest round in a legal fight between the
government and major cigarette-makers dating to the Clinton
In 1999 Justice Department lawyers accused the companies of
running a fraud against Americans by denying or downplaying the
effects of their products.
One 1954 newspaper ad, for example, dismissed experiments
suggesting a link between cancer and smoking. "We accept an
interest in people's health as a basic responsibility, paramount
to every other consideration in our business," the ad said.
Kessler ruled that the companies violated the Racketeer
Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a 1970 law designed
for use against organized crime.
She rejected a Justice Department proposal that the
companies pay billions for anti-smoking campaigns, but she did
bar them from using terms such as "low tar" or "light" in their
cigarette marketing, and she required them to make corrective
statements to the public.