On August 17, 2006, federal Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that tobacco companies violated racketeering laws, ruling, “As set forth in these Final Proposed Findings of Fact, substantial evidence establishes that Defendants have engaged in and executed – and continue to engage in and execute (emphasis added) – a massive 50-year scheme to defraud the public, including consumers of cigarettes, in violation of RICO.”
One important remedy was the requirement that the defendant cigarette companies make internal documents available to the public for 25 years (which ended last September); we made these documents freely available to everyone at the UCSF Truth Tobacco Documents Library.
Another aspect of the remedy was a requirement that the companies post “corrective statements” at the point of sale. While the defendant companies (Altria, Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and four cigarette brands owned by ITG Brands) were compelled to display the corrective statements, they have been fighting the Department of Justice for 16 years over what they would actually look like.
On December 6, 2022, the Justice Department, together with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced that the court had finally issued an order reuiring the defendants to display specific signs (such as the one above) about the health effects and addictiveness of smoking cigarettes. All the signs are here.
Perhaps the most important impact of the case is the simple fact that a court had found that the major cigarette companies had banded together to create an illegal enterprise under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). That fact has been used to undermine their political influence around the country and around the world. Indeed, Judge Kessler’s 1682 page ruling is still one of the best summaries of how the tobacco companies work, including their activities to undermine science and defraud the public.
Sharon Eubanks, the lead DOJ lawyer on the case when it went to trial, and I wrote a book on the behind-the-scenes story, Bad Acts, which is available from AJPH Press.