Supreme Court not getting involved in tobacco fight

The Supreme Court has rejected
appeals by the Obama administration and the nation’s largest tobacco companies
to get involved in a legal fight about the dangers of cigarette smoking that
has stretched more than 10 years.

The court’s action, issued without
comment leaves in place court rulings that the tobacco industry illegally
concealed the dangers of smoking for decades. But it also prevents the
administration from trying to extract billions of dollars from the industry
either in past profits or to fund a national campaign to curb smoking.

In asking the court to hear its
appeal, the administration said the industry’s half-century of deception
“has cost the lives and damaged the health of untold millions of

The appeal was signed by Elena
Kagan, the solicitor general, a couple of months before President Barack Obama
nominated her to the Supreme Court.

Philip Morris USA, the nation’s
largest tobacco maker, its parent company Altria Group Inc., R.J. Reynolds
Tobacco Co., British American Tobacco Investments Ltd. and Lorillard Tobacco
Co. filed separate but related appeals that took issue with a federal judge’s
1,600-page opinion and an appeals court ruling that found the industry engaged
in racketeering and fraud over several decades.

In 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys
Kessler ruled that the companies engaged in a scheme to defraud the public by
falsely denying the adverse health effects of smoking, concealing evidence that
nicotine is addictive and lying about their manipulation of nicotine in
cigarettes to create addiction. A federal appeals court in Washington upheld
the findings.

At the same time, however, the
courts have said the government is not entitled to collect $280 billion in past
profits or $14 billion for a national campaign to curb smoking. The high court
previously denied the government’s appeal on that issue.

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