On August 17, 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued an historic ruling. Nearly 7 years after the case was first filed, Judge Kessler issued an opinion that found that the tobacco industry had fraudulently and illegally covered up the health hazards of smoking for decades, in violation of the federal anti-racketeering law (RICO). This year marks the 10th anniversary of this lengthy ( the full decision is 1,683 pages long) and momentous decision. In honor of the occasion, we have highlighted a few of the most important findings.
The Tobacco Industry Targets Youth
“The evidence is clear and convincing – and beyond any reasonable doubt – that Defendants have marketed to young people twenty-one and under while consistently, publicly, and falsely, denying they do so.” Paragraph 3296.
The Tobacco Industry Manipulated Nicotine to increase addictiveness
“Every aspect of a cigarette is precisely tailored to ensure that a cigarette smoker can pick up virtually any cigarette on the market and obtain an addictive dose of nicotine.” Paragraph 1368.
The Tobacco Industry Lied to the Public
“Cigarette smoking causes disease, suffering, and death. Despite internal recognition of this fact, Defendants have publicly denied, distorted, and minimized the hazards of smoking for decades.” Paragraph 509.
Ten Years Later:
Despite these and many other important findings, the tobacco industry is still committing many of these actions today. One of the reasons is that the court had limited legal options to force the industry to stop, due to the language of the RICO statute that the case was brought under. In fact, Judge Kessler emphasized that she was disappointed at the lack of remedies available to her.
Furthermore, despite the weight of this decision, some of the Court’s orders still have not been implemented, 10 years later. The tobacco industry initiated several appeals of the decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. upheld Judge Kessler’s decision, and the United States Supreme court declined to hear the case.
As part of the decision, Judge Kessler ordered that tobacco companies issue “corrective statements” about the health hazards of smoking and second-hand smoke, and their deception. The tobacco companies have appealed again and again, including as recently as this year. As Judge Kessler recently stated, this is “… a waste of precious time, energy, and money for all concerned — and a loss of information for the public.”
This Department of Justice (DOJ) RICO case was a landmark decision for the public health community and society at large. The opinion brought to light the lies that the tobacco industry had been telling for decades, and the remedies attempted to help educate the public about the true harms of smoking and second-hand smoke. However, the tobacco industry, despite being publicly indicted as racketeers, is still up to its old tricks. The DOJ case has had a huge impact; but without tobacco industry interference, it could have saved many more lives these past 10 years.