Feds Want Public Release of Tobacco Warning Statements

The Justice Department plans to ask a federal judge to make public the proposed statements the government wants tobacco companies to publish about the dangers of their products, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Department spokesman Charles Miller said the agency planned to file the proposed statements in a Washington, D.C., court Thursday, but ran into resistance from cigarette makers about whether the information should be made public now.

He said the agency will now raise the issue with US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, who ruled in 2006 that tobacco companies violated federal racketeering laws by engaging in a decades-long scheme to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking.

Among the penalties Judge Kessler imposed was a requirement that cigarette makers issue corrective statements about the dangers of their products, to appear on television and in newspapers, product packaging and retail displays.

The Justice Department Thursday was to submit the language that it believes should be included in those corrective statements.
Lawyers representing tobacco-company defendants said they believed the department was required to confer with them before the proposed statements are eventually released publicly.

"We have a meet and confer process that we have been following on a number of issues, as the court knows," said Miguel Estrada, a lawyer representing Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris subsidiary. "I expect we will have the same process when the government gives us their proposal on corrective statements, which we have not seen yet."

The companies will have a chance to lodge legal objections to the statements once the department proposes them.

The Justice Department's long-running tobacco case dates back to 1999, when the Clinton administration alleged that nine tobacco companies and two related trade associations engaged in a 50-year conspiracy to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking. A nine-month trial took place in 2005.

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