The state of Minnesota and Blue Cross/ Blue Shield of Minnesota have begun their civil trial against the tobacco companies. This is the first suit of a state versus a tobacco company that has gone to trial. The plaintiffs, led by Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III, are asking for $1.77 billion in damages to compensate for the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses (Associated Press, "Tobacco Trial Opens On Minnesota's Suit," New York Times, January 1, 1998, p. A12).
The state presented documents to demonstrate that the defendants deceived the public regarding low tar cigarettes and their knowledge that nicotine is addictive. Minnesota claims that top executives from major tobacco companies knew that people compensated for low tar cigarettes by consuming more of them, thus negating the ostensible benefits of less tar. They also knew, according to the plaintiffs' exhibits, that their most important product was the drug nicotine, and that the cigarettes were merely the vehicle through which to distribute it (Henry Weinstein, "State of Minnesota's Tobacco Trial Is Smoking Out Damaging Memos," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), February 2, 1998, p. A5; Associated Press, "Tobacco Trial Cites Old Documents About Nicotine," Houston Chronicle, January 29, 1998, p. 4A; Henry Weinstein, "Cigarette Firms Tell Jury Charges Can't Be Proven," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), January 28, 1998, p. B5; Associated Press, "Minnesota Says Tobacco Papers Prove Deception by the Industry," New York Times, January 27, 1998, p. A1).
Stanford chemical engineering professor Channing Robertson testified that industry documents dating back fifty years indicate that tobacco companies have long realized the addictive nature of nicotine. Industry executives have always held that nicotine is an ancillary ingredient in cigarettes, not something they use to induce addiction (Myron Levin, "Industry Papers Support Nicotine Addictiveness," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), February 4, 1998, p. B7).
Thomas Osdene, once the research director for Philip Morris, refused to answer questions on the witness stand on issues ranging from the tobacco industry's knowledge of nicotine addiction to fetal damage in pregnant mothers who smoke (Henry Weinstein and Myron Levin, "Tobacco Industry Scientist Invokes 5th Amendment 100 Times," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), February 18, 1997, p. B7).
Geoffrey C. Bible, the chairman of Philip Morris Companies, Inc., testified for more than 15 hours of testimony. After his testimony, Bible wrote a letter to Senator John McCain (R-AZ) saying that he felt Minnesota's position, that the concealment of information by the tobacco companies had caused all smoking-related health costs, was an "absurd connection" (Bill Dedman, "Tobacco Chief `Horrified' Over Evidence," New York Times, March 4, 1998, p. A15; Myron Levin, "Philip Morris Chairman Takes the Offensive," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), March 5, 1998, p. B6).
Bennett LeBow, the head of the Liggett Tobacco Group, Inc., testified for the plaintiff as part of his cooperation with attorneys general in exchange for immunity from state lawsuits. He told the court that the tobacco industry targets children to ensure a future market: "If you're really, truly not selling to children, you're not going to have any business in 30 years," said LeBow (Myron Levin, "Tobacco Indutsry Confronts Maverick Executive In Court," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition, February 11, 1998, p. B6).
Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III - Office of the Attorney
General, State Capitol, Room 102, Aurora Avenue and Park Street, St. Paul,
MN 55155, Tel: (612) 296-6196.
On January 22, Federal Judge David Folsom approved a $15.3 billion settlement between the state of Texas and eight tobacco companies. The companies will pay reparations over 25 years to make up for the Medicaid funds Texas paid to treat tobacco-related illnesses. The sum includes civil fines for the companies' violation of state and federal racketeering laws (Clay Robison, "Judge Approves Tobacco Pact and Big Payment for Lawyers," Houston Chronicle, January 23, 1998. p. 1A; Barry Meier, "Tobacco Concerns Settle Texas Case for $14.5 Billion," New York Times, January 16, 1998, p. A1).
A new Texas law prohibits minors from buying, consuming, and possessing tobacco products, punishable with a maximum fine of $250 and in some cases, loss of their driver's license. The new policy, called a "tough love law," by Texas Health Commissioner William R. Archer III, is complemented with an anti-tobacco advertising campaign geared toward teenagers (Clay Robison, "Tobacco Campaign Under Way," Houston Chronicle, February 25, 1998, p. 23A; John Gonzalez and Steve Olafson, "Texas' Teen Smokers See New Law As A Drag," Houston Chronicle, January 1, 1998, p. 1A).
Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, Office of the Attorney General, Capitol Station, P.O. Box 12548, Austin, TX 78711-2548, Tel: (512) 463-2100
Texas Health Commissioner William Archer III - 1100 W. 49th St., Austin, TX 78756, Tel: (512) 458-7375.