Video: Cigarettes gain in strength

updated 8/31/2006 8:03:22 PM ET 2006-09-01T00:03:22

A group of tobacco companies asked a federal judge on Thursday to let them continue marketing “low tar” and “light” cigarettes overseas, two weeks after she banned the practice in the United States.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled Aug. 17 that the nation’s top cigarette makers violated racketeering laws and deceived the public for years about the health hazards of smoking.

Kessler ordered the companies to stop using terms such as “light” on their products, saying such cigarettes are no safer than others. She also ordered the companies to publish in newspapers and on their Web sites “corrective statements” on the adverse health effects and addictiveness of smoking and nicotine.

In court documents filed Thursday, tobacco lawyers asked Kessler to clarify that ruling to let them continue their marketing practices and selling so-called “light” and “low-tar” cigarettes overseas.

“Banning the use of the low-tar descriptors in foreign countries would be an unwarranted intrusion upon the right of these countries to regulate cigarette sales within their own borders,” attorneys wrote.

Prohibiting such marketing would put U.S. cigarette companies at an unfair disadvantage in the international market, attorneys said. Overseas markets represent a growth area for tobacco sales, tobacco executives have said.

The companies also asked Kessler to exempt international markets from an order forcing them to post signs in stores saying cigarettes are dangerous and addictive and that tobacco companies have manipulated them to deliver nicotine to smokers.

“Only an industry that has survived for 50 years by deceiving the American public on a continuing and regular basis would have trouble complying with an order that tells them to simply tell the truth,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-free kids.

The request was filed by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., British American Tobacco Ltd., Lorillard Tobacco Co., and Philip Morris USA Inc. and its parent, Altria Group Inc.

The request comes in the wake of a Massachusetts Department of Public Health report that found nicotine levels in cigarettes have risen about 10 percent in the past six years , making it harder to quit and easier to get hooked.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who called for legislation prohibiting companies from boosting nicotine levels, cast Thursday’s court filing as an adaptive move by the industry.

“Big tobacco may be forced to clean up its act in the United States, so they’re clearly looking to continue their deceptions in large markets overseas,” Lautenberg said.

Tobacco companies said in court papers Thursday that they were preparing to ask Kessler to put her entire ruling on hold until they could appeal.

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