Big Tobacco in the dock as America prepares for biggest ever law suit

In a detailed analysis of the legal outlook, the Independent reports the tobacco industry will face its biggest legal challenge yet next month, when it will finally appear in the dock to fight a $280bn claim from the US Government for deceiving the public over the health risks of smoking for more than 50 years.It is the largest suit ever launched by the Department of Justice and promises to reveal whether scientific research on nicotine was withheld, destroyed and ignored by a number of companies in a conspiracy designed to keep “profits above the public health”, dating back to 1954.

The secrets of the tobacco industry have already been the subject of an Oscar-nominated Hollywood blockbuster. When Jeffrey Wigand, who was head of research and development at Brown & Williamson, British American Tobacco’s former US subsidiary, described cigarettes as the “delivery device for nicotine” to the US media, the tobacco industry was almost choked by the biggest public health lawsuit to date. His revelations that tobacco companies knew nicotine was addictive and that carcinogenic material was knowingly added to cigarettes were made public by the American investigative journalist Lowell Bergman, whose work inspired the film The Insider, starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe. Mr Wigand’s testimony helped bring about a $206bn settlement between the tobacco industry and 46 US states for the costs of treating sick smokers.

On 13 September, the sequel to that settlement will open to the public, with a federal trial set to take place in Washington DC that has taken five years to bring to court. A number of major cigarette companies, including BAT, are on trial on “fraud and deceit” charges that were originally designed to fight the mafia. Along with BAT stands Philip Morris, R J Reynolds, Lorillard and Liggett, which represent the best-known brands in cigarettes such as Marlboro, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall and Camel.



Source: The Independent, 13 August 2004

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