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Lawyers for cigarette makers faced an uphill battle before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in their appeal on penalties from a 13-year-old case. On Friday, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in U.S. v. Philip Morris USA Inc.
The defendants include Altria Group Inc (a unit of Philip Morris USA), R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Lorillard Tobacco Co. The companies are appealing the District Court's decision from a 1999 case brought under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The 1999 RICO case came to an end in 2006, when Judge Gladys Kessler of the District Court for D.C. found that the cigarette companies violated RICO by conspiring to conceal the perils of cigarettes.
Namely, the companies were cited for their marketing practices in using the words "light" and "low-tar." The companies were ordered to stop marketing their products with such language and were further ordered to make public statements in newspapers, magazines and on cigarette packaging about the health effects of smoking.
On appeal, the attorneys for the tobacco companies said that the current regulatory environment rendered the penalties moot. The FDA regulations, attorney Miguel Estrada argued, make the chance of future violations unlikely. As such, the current FDA restrictions on the sale, promotion and distribution of tobacco products were sufficiently corrective so as to preclude the need for Judge Kessler's judicial oversight on the monitoring of the tobacco companies.
But the three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals didn't seem moved by Estrada's arguments.
"You're in here because you didn't obey the old law," said Circuit Judge David Sentelle.