business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times reports this morning that the US Department of Justice is asserting in new court papers that the nation’s major cigarette companies have run “what amounts to a criminal enterprise by manipulating nicotine levels, lying to their customers about the dangers of tobacco and directing their multibillion-dollar advertising campaigns at children.” The Justice department is asking that the courts order these tobacco companies forfeit $289 billion in profits derived from a half-century of what it terms "fraudulent" marketing practices.

The Justice Department made the claims in more than 1,400 pages of new court documents, in which it says that the major tobacco firms continue to pursue “ill-gotten gains” despite repeated pledges that they will change their ways.

The $289 billion figure, according to the NYT, “is based partly on proceeds the government says the industry made from selling cigarettes to an estimated 30 million people who started smoking regularly before the age of 18 beginning in 1954, when the industry allegedly began its illegal collusion” It also is an even bigger figure than the $206 billion the industry agreed to pay 46 states in a 1998 settlement with those states’ attorneys general.

Analysts say that if the courts buy the Justice Department’s reasoning and math, it could bankrupt any or all of the defendants: Philip Morris; R. J. Reynolds; the Loews Corporation's Lorillard Tobacco; British American Tobacco's Brown & Williamson, and the Vector Group's Liggett Group.

The NYT also notes that the Justice department’s move comes as something of a surprise, since the suit originated during the Clinton administration, and has been a much lower priority for new Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had opposed the suit when he was a US Senator.
KC's View:
Our position on these anti-tobacco suits has been stated before, and we continue to have no objectivity on this issue.

Bury ‘em.