US says cigarette makers lied for 50 years
Cigarette makers lied about the dangers of smoking for 50 years, the US government said yesterday as its $280 billion case against the industry went to trial.
In opening arguments in the biggest and most ambitious racketeering case in history, the government said a 1953 meeting of tobacco industry executives at New York's Plaza Hotel was the starting point for a conspiracy designed to cast doubt on links between cancer and cigarettes.
"This case is about a 50-year pattern of misrepresentation, half-truths and lies," US Justice Department attorney Frank Marine told a federal court.
The 1999 lawsuit launched under President Bill Clinton targets Altria Group Inc. and its Philip Morris USA unit; Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco unit, which has a tracking stock, Carolina Group; Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group; Reynolds American Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco unit and British American Tobacco Plc unit British American Tobacco Investments Ltd.
The companies have denied the government's allegations and say they have drastically changed their marketing practices since 1998, when they signed a landmark settlement with state attorneys general that severely restricts marketing and subjects cigarette makers to oversight.