- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Justice Department is within its rights to pursue a racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco industry, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris USA argued that the department’s claims should be tossed out because the agency was trying to regulate the cigarette industry — a power, Philip Morris said, the Justice Department doesn’t possess.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said the department was “not engaging in policy-making” but was trying to enforce the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

She said Congress “explicitly authorized the attorney general to bring RICO suits such as this one.”

The lawsuit accuses the tobacco industry of concealing information that nicotine is addictive and smoking causes disease. The government also contends that the companies targeted children through advertising to lure new smokers.

The case was brought by the Clinton administration and is being continued under President Bush.

The government is seeking to recoup profits it says the industry earned through fraud. A government estimate puts those profits at more than $280 billion.

The Justice Department also wants the judge to impose new restrictions on the tobacco industry, including a ban on vending machines and on terms such as “light” and “low tar.”

The defendants are Philip Morris USA Inc. and its parent, Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co.; British American Tobacco Ltd.; Lorillard Tobacco Co.; Liggett Group Inc.; Counsel for Tobacco Research-U.S.A. and the Tobacco Institute.

The Justice Department declined to comment on yesterday’s ruling. Philip Morris had no immediate response.

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