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Tobacco Litigation Update


December 1996

MINNESOTA: Brown & Williamson
Memo Admits "Smoking Is Addictive"

In a 1980 company memo, officials of British American Tobacco, the parent company of the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, debated whether they should admit that cigarettes cause lung cancer and other diseases and are addictive, but were worried about American lawsuits. "Our integrity is seriously in question over our position on causation," the memo said, adding that the company should admit "smoking is addictive/habituative." The memo is one of many documents filed by Minnesota and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota in its lawsuit against the tobacco industry to recoup tobacco-related health care costs. Minnesota Attorney General Hubert H. Humphrey III said, "It reveals a historic moment in which some of the highest-ranking tobacco officials in the world considered finally confessing the truth about tobacco ... [but] obviously chose instead to perpetuate their deadly cover-up." Michael Corrigan, a New York attorney representing BAT, said "It is not feasible to respond to documents cherry-picked and taken out of context by plaintiffs' attorneys" (John Schwartz, "Company Officials Debated Admissions About Cigarettes," Washington Post, October 8, 1996, p. A4).

UTAH: Fifteenth State to Sue Tobacco Companies

Utah has joined 15 other states that are suing tobacco companies to recover funds spent on tobacco-related illnesses. "We sued to recoup Medicaid costs, but also to put a hold on the targeting of youth," said Todd Utzinger, a spokesman for Utah Attorney General Jan Graham. According to Utzinger, Utah has spent $128 million on Medicaid costs for treating tobacco-related illnesses. Michael York, a spokesman for Philip Morris, one of the companies being sued, said the suit appeared to be a "copycat, cookie-cutter lawsuit" based on other state cases. "So far we have not seen any cases with any legal merit and we don't expect to," York said ("Utah Sues Tobacco Companies," Washington Post, October 1, 1996, p. A9).

TEXAS: Trial Date Set for September 1997

On October 10, U.S. District Judge David Folsom set a trial date of September 22, 1997 in Texarkana for Texas' $4 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry. Texas Attorney General Dan Morales filed suit in March, seeking reimbursement for Medicaid costs spent on tobacco-related illnesses. The suit also accuses tobacco companies of racketeering, conspiracy and mail fraud. "We are pleased that ... we will be presenting our case before a jury to hold the tobacco defendants accountable for their illegal behavior," said Morales. Jack Maroney, an Austin attorney for Philip Morris, one of the defendants, said "This case has represented an attack on a legal business amounting to nothing more than politically correct extortion by the attorney general." Texas is the third state to set a trial date for a Medicaid reimbursement suit against the tobacco industry. Trial in Mississippi is scheduled for March 1997, and trial in Florida is scheduled for August 1997 (Clay Robison, "Trial date set for Texas' lawsuit against tobacco industry," Houston Chronicle, October 11, 1996, p. 36A).

NEW YORK CITY: Sues Three Big Tobacco Firms
Headquartered There

On October 17, New York City joined Los Angeles and San Francisco to become the third city to sue the major tobacco companies to recoup money spent to treat people with smoking-related illnesses. In announcing the suit, New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said, "We thought it best to file a lawsuit ourselves, so we will be at the table" if any settlement discussions occur. He said deceit by the tobacco industry "has caused human suffering and death and huge economic repercussions." Giuliani cited a Columbia University study estimating $300 million in annual health care costs related to tobacco in the city. Three of the defendants named in the lawsuit, Lorillard Tobacco Co., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris Co. have headquarters in Manhattan, where the suit was filed in State Supreme Court. Giuliani disregarded the possibility that the tobacco companies, which employ thousands of people in the city and donate millions of dollars to local cultural groups, might retaliate. "If they want to leave, we will replace those jobs with other jobs," Giuliani said (Clifford J. Levy, "New York City Sues Big Tobacco Companies to Recoup Health Costs," New York Times, October 18, 1996, p. B17; Jay Mathews, "N.Y. Joins Legal Attack on Tobacco Industry," October 18, 1996, p. A22).