Govt. Presses for Tobacco Lawsuit
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department says its massive lawsuit against the tobacco industry should be kept alive because the cigarette companies ``pose a continuing threat to the health and well-being of the American public.''
In documents filed Friday with U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, the department argued that cigarette companies made ``multiple legal errors'' in their motions last December to dismiss the lawsuit.
The government accuses cigarette makers of conspiring for 45 years to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking and seeks to recover billions of dollars spent by Medicare and other federal health programs treating smoking-induced illnesses.
In filing the lawsuit last September, Attorney General Janet Reno said federal health plans spend more than $20 billion a year treating smoking-related illnesses, which take 400,000 lives a year.
Industry lawyers contended no court has ever recognized the government's right to recover payments made under the Medicare health program. But the Justice Department said, ``That argument asks the court to ignore the plain statutory language of the Medical Care Recovery Act ... (which) authorizes the United States to recover all medical costs that it is `authorized or required by law to furnish or pay for.'''
Rebutting an industry complaint that the lawsuit was unprecedented, the department said, ``What makes this suit unique is the conduct of these corporations, which for decades have deliberately and successfully addicted millions of citizens to a product that defendants have long known causes suffering and death. ... Defendants cannot rely on the sheer massiveness of their wrongdoing to defeat this suit.''
Last year, the industry reached settlements with all 50 states. It agreed to pay states $246 billion to settle lawsuits they filed to recover the cost of treating sick smokers in the Medicaid program, which serves poor and disabled Americans.
Tobacco lawyers argued that many of the federal government's nonmonetary demands already are required by the state settlements, such as a ban on attempts to target children in advertising and marketing.
The Justice Department replied that the state settlements ``did not speak to the far greater costs that the same unlawful conduct has imposed on Medicare, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the Indian Health Service, the health care programs of the military branches and the Department of Veterans Affairs.''
And the state settlements ``did not impose restraints that will definitively end the defendants' unlawful conduct, prevent them from improperly profiting from the conduct or eliminate the severe future public health consequences of that conduct,'' the department added.
The department also said industry lawyers erred in suggesting the government was required to show before trial how remedies under the federal racketeering law, used in one portion of the lawsuit, might restrain future wrongdoing.
The lawsuit was filed against Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., American Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., British American Tobacco Ltd., Liggett and Myers Inc., the Council for Tobacco Research-USA and the Tobacco Institute.