SEATTLE State Attorney General Christine Gregoire filed in King County Superior Court today a lawsuit aimed at changing the conduct of the nation's leading tobacco companies.
The lawsuit alleges the industry concealed knowledge that nicotine is addictive and that tobacco use is deadly. It contends the industry manipulated nicotine levels to keep smokers hooked and that it conspired to keep "safer' cigarettes off the market. Gregoire also is alleging the industry operated high-stakes, sophisticated marketing campaigns aimed directly at children with the certain knowledge that children who use tobacco become the addicted adults of tomorrow.
"The tobacco industry has targeted our kids, withheld safer products and deliberately misled the public about the safety of smoking," Gregoire said. "This lawsuit is intended to make the tobacco cartel play by the same rules as other businesses."
"Washington and other states can no longer stand for the deception, and half truths that tobacco companies have imposed on the public - especially young people - for more than a generation," Gregoire said. "The preying on our youth is the most troubling part of the tobacco industry's tactics. The industry loses 400,000 customers a year to tobacco-related deaths, and the targeted source of new customers is our youth, who have little or no concept of the highly addictive power of nicotine."
The Attorney General noted that 82 percent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18.
Gregoire announced the action at a meeting this morning with about 20 leading health and anti-smoking organi zations, many of whom have advocated state action.
The lawsuit calls for reimbursement of millions of dollars in health and medical costs the state has spent over the past four decades on tobacco-related illnesses, as well as civil penalties of half a million dollars against each of the eight corporations named in the lawsuit. The lawsuit also asks the court to order tobacco companies to stop engaging in deceptive and unfair advertising, publicly disclose research related to smoking and health, and fund public education campaigns and smoking cessation programs.
Gregoire's announcement follows more than a year of research into the tobacco industry and consultation with other states' attorneys general.
"I am convinced we have compelling legal claims, highly-credible evidence of deceptive tobacco industry tactics and documentation of the effects of smoking which are so pervasive they impact virtually every citizen of Washington," she said.
"This lawsuit is important to all Washington residents because smoking pinches our pocketbooks, clouds our health and insurance options and figuratively and literally affects our hearts," Gregoire explained. The smoking issue is important, she said, because:
- Smoking increases the cost state government, businesses and individuals pay for health and industrial insurance;
- Illegal sales and relentless youth-focused marketing campaigns each year contribute to the tobacco addiction of about 20,000 Washington kids;
- This year about 8,000 Washington families will lose a loved one to premature death attributed to tobacco; and
- All taxpayers help pay about $706 million a year in direct medical costs related to smoking.
"This lawsuit is not intended to take away the right of adults to choose to smoke, and it is not intended to put tobacco companies out of business," Gregoire said. "It is intended to make the tobacco companies be honest with consumers and stop targeting our children."