Downsized Penalty Raises Questions

Stop-smoking program price tag becomes tobacco trial focus

WASHINGTON -- Attention in the racketeering trial against cigarette makers has turned to one proposed penaltya stop-smoking programas the judge and lawmakers questioned why the government downsized its own witness' recommendation, said the Associated Press.

As reported in CSP Daily News, the government asked U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler to require the companies to fund a five-year, $10 billion program, a fraction of the 25-year, $130 billion program suggested by government witness Michael C. Fiore, a University of Wisconsin medical professor.

Kessler on Wednesday noted "there may be some additional influences being brought to bear" on the government's decision.

Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum told reporters the government would address the proposal again on Thursday, the last day of closing arguments. But he would not comment on what factors influenced the decision to ask for a smaller program.

Democratic lawmakers sent letters on Wednesday to Glenn A. Fine, the U.S. Department of Justice's inspector general, asking him to look into what led to the reduced request. "The Justice Department's approach to tobacco litigation should be based on the facts of the case and not political favors to the tobacco industry," wrote Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Martin Meehan of Massachusetts.

A group of senatorsincluding Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)asked Fine "to determine whether improper interference by political appointees led to a reversal of the position advocated by the career professionals working on the case."

The Justice Department claims tobacco companies conspired to deceive the public about the health risks of smoking, and it filed the suit in 1999 under a civil racketeering law. The trial started in September. Tobacco companies deny the government's allegation and say the civil racketeering law does not allow most of the penalties the government has requested.

An appeals court in February banned the government from seeking $280 billion in allegedly ill-gotten gains. Among the other penalties the government has suggested are long-term educational campaigns designed to counter tobacco marketing, quantifiable reductions in youth smoking rates, and restrictions on practices such as price discounts and in-store displays.

The biggest price tag mentioned by the government's witnesses on remedies was attached to the smoking cessation program. Philip Morris USA attorney Ted Wells said even the reduced program would not be allowed under the racketeering law. "Whether the price of the cessation program is $130 billion or $10 billion or 99 cents, it is still a fatally flawed program," he said.

The defendants in the lawsuit are PM USA and its parent, Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co.; British American Tobacco Ltd.; Lorillard Tobacco Co.; Liggett Group Inc.; Counsel for Tobacco Research-U.S.A.; and the Tobacco Institute.

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