Tobacco Lawyer Suit


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Tobacco Class Action Suit Filed Against Big Tobacco on Behalf of America's Youths

May 23, 2001 tobacco lawyer Michael D. Hausfeld of Cohen Milstein Hausfeld and Toll, and Johnnie Cochran, of Cochran, Cherry, Givens & Smith, and the law firm of Berger and Montague announced the filing in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia of a nationwide class action suit on behalf of children and young adults against the major tobacco companies for fraud and racketeering. The plaintiff class consists of the millions of young people (under 22 years old) who have been the target for decades of the tobacco companies' aggressive and false advertising concerning the health effects and addictive nature of tobacco.

Tobacco Class Action Suit - The suit seeks to recover the money that young people in this country have spent on cigarettes since they began smoking -- whether or not they have yet been made sick by smoking or have become addicted. It also seeks the creation of an educational fund to campaign against youth smoking, both now and in the future.

The legislatures of all fifty states agree that children should not purchase or smoke cigarettes and have made the sale of cigarettes to children a crime. Yet, for decades the tobacco companies worked together to deceive the public, both adults and children, about the harmful health effects and addictive nature of the cigarettes they sell. Both the states and federal governments have sought to recover the cost of treating smoking related diseases. The states sued the industry for the cost to Medicaid of treating tobacco related illnesses, and obtained a more than $200 billion settlement of their claims in 1998. The federal government, too, sued the tobacco companies to recover the cost to Medicare of treating smoking related illnesses and to recover the billions of dollars in profits that the tobacco companies made by misrepresenting their products.

Tobacco Class Action Suit & DOJ - Recently, the United States Department of Justice won a great victory in that suit. Federal District Court Judge Gladys Kessler held that, if proved, the government's charge that the companies deliberately conspired to conceal the truth about the dangers of smoking would constitute a violation of the federal racketeering statute, "RICO" (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). Judge Kessler ruled that if the companies misrepresented and suppressed research regarding the carcinogenic effect and addictive nature of cigarettes, and "aggressively targeted their [marketing] campaigns to children," as the government alleged, the tobacco companies could be liable for RICO damages.

Despite the enormous effort spent by the Justice Department to secure documentary evidence of defendant's fraudulent conspiracy, and despite Judge Kessler's favorable ruling, the Bush administration appears to be giving serious consideration to abandoning the federal government's suit by not funding its prosecution. That should not happen. The tobacco companies are guilty as charged and should be made to disgorge the profits they wrongfully received from the sale of cigarettes to kids, among others.

While the state and federal governments' suits have been successful in certain respects, class action suits by the real victims of tobacco, cigarette smokers, for injuries resulting from tobacco – have not fared as well, largely because of the individual nature of the physical injuries caused by smoking. The class action filed today does not seek compensation for the harmful health effects of tobacco. Rather, plaintiffs are asking for their money back or disgorgement of defendants' ill gotten gains from the sale of cigarettes to them.

Like the suit filed by the Department of Justice, the suit filed today charges that the tobacco companies knew that nicotine was addictive and conspired with each other to withhold that information from the public. The complaint also alleges that tobacco companies manipulated nicotine in cigarettes to make it more difficult for smokers to quit. In addition, the manufacturers aggressively marketed their products to children, knowing that children are especially vulnerable to the addictive effects of nicotine and seductive advertising and would more easily begin an expensive, harmful and ultimately deadly lifetime habit -- all for a profit.

Tobacco Class Action Suit & People - More than 80% of all smokers in the United States began their habit when they were under the age of 18and their numbers are increasing. Over the past ten years, the number of kids under 18 in the United States who become new daily smokers each year has risen by more than 70 percent to 1 million new young smokers each year. Each day, 3,000 children between the ages of 12 and 17 become new daily smokers, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (www.tobaccofreekids.org). Cigarettes kill more than 400,000 Americans each year – more than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, murders, suicides, drugs and fires – combined, report the author's of the Institute of Medicine's publication, Growing Up Tobacco Free: Preventing Nicotine Addiction in Children and Youths. Five million children alive today will die prematurely from smoking related illness. In the District of Columbia alone (population 700,000), 4,000 kids now under 18 years of age eventually will die from smoking, 22% of high school students smoke, and 1,000 kids in the District become new smokers each year. At the same time, advertising by the tobacco companies has increased to $1 million an hour – $8.4 billion a year.

Tobacco Class Action Suit Now - Today's lawsuit on behalf of America's youth asks for three things. First, it asks the court to require the cigarette companies to return to each young purchaser the money that he or she spent on cigarettes while they were under age. Second, it seeks three times that amount as treble damages under RICO – as punishment for the cigarette manufacturer's intentionally fraudulent misrepresentations and to deter such conduct in the future. Finally, it asks the court to approve the funding of an educational program to inform children of the dangers of smoking before they begin buying cigarettes and to assist those who do smoke in their efforts to quit.

" Whatever the fate of the federal government's suit, the young plaintiffs who filed their suit today believe that they can take up the gauntlet and successfully prosecute RICO claims against the tobacco industry for the benefit, of all of the children and young adults who were -- and still are -- the targets of big tobacco's fraudulent marketing. The relief sought on behalf of the purchasers of cigarettes goes beyond the claims of the federal government and seeks to recover the actual amounts paid to the tobacco companies by those induced as minors to begin smoking. Each case has merit and should be permitted to proceed," said Michael Hausfeld

 

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