Anti-Tobacco Groups Call for Counter-Marketing Campaign

Want $4.8 billion-a-year anti-smoking program, more if feds win Big Tobacco racketeering case

WASHINGTON -- Anti-smoking and health groups have urged that cigarette makers be required to finance a long-term, $4.8 billion-a-year, anti-smoking program if the U.S. government prevails in its racketeering case against the industry, said Reuters.

Six anti-smoking groups told a federal judge that a 10-year, $14 billion remedy sought by the Department of Justice is inadequate and that the program should not end until nearly all smokers who want to quit have succeeded. They also sought a $600-million-a-year "counter-marketing" campaign to deter youth [image-nocss] smoking and warn the public about the dangers of secondhand smoke and low-tar cigarettes.

"The government's proposal does not go far enough in altering the economic incentives of the defendants or eliminating a sufficient number of these smokers to deprive the defendants of the benefits of continuing to find ways to keep these individuals as smokers," they said in a 112-page filing with the court.

The groups, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, made the filing late Wednesday.

They were invited by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler in July to outline their views on what remedies should be imposed on the tobacco industry if she finds in favor of government charges that the industry deceived the public for decades about the hazards of smoking. They have criticized the legal remedies being sought by the government as inadequate ever since June, when Justice Department lawyers scaled back their original plans for sanctions against the industry.

The government asked Kessler to require cigarette makers to pay for a $10 billion quit-smoking program and a $4 billion, anti-smoking education campaign to remedy decades of alleged fraud by the industry. But that angered anti-smoking groups because it was only a fraction of the $130 billion, 25-year program recommended by a government witness.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on the anti-smoking groups' proposal.

The $4.8 billion proposed program would include $3.2 billion for a nationwide quit-smoking program; $1 billion a year for research to develop new smoking cessation therapies and training; and $600 million for a media campaign. It also would limit print advertisements by cigarette companies to black-and-white text.

The anti-smoking groups also would require steeper declines in youth smoking rates than the Justice Department and would impose stiffer penalties on the companies if they are not met, according to William Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Of the 45.4 million smokers in the United States, about 70% now say they would like to quit, according to the anti-smoking groups' court filing. The programs would continue until that figure declined to 10%.

The "counter-marketing" campaign would continue until youth smoking rates in the United States declined substantially.

Altria Group Inc.'s associate general counsel, William Ohlemeyer, said in a statement that the filing was "procedural only, involving no new evidence, facts or witnesses." The company plans a response to the court later.

Targeted in the 1999 lawsuit are: Altria and its Philip Morris unit; Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco unit, which has a tracking stock, Carolina Group; Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group; Reynolds American Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco unit; and British American Tobacco Plc unit, British American Tobacco Investments Ltd. The companies deny they illegally conspired to promote smoking and say the federal government has no grounds to pursue them or impose additional restrictions after they drastically overhauled marketing practices in a 1998 settlement with the states.