WASHINGTON – The country’s two biggest tobacco companies have agreed to improve public access to internal tobacco-industry documents and to pay $6.25 million into a court fund that will go to support the country’s largest online collection of tobacco documents, the Justice Department announced today. The agreement is part of the United States’ landmark case against the country’s largest cigarette companies, filed in federal court in Washington. The settlement is with Philip Morris USA and its parent Altria Group, and with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
The agreement resolves a dispute between the tobacco companies and the United States about the online document databases that the court ordered in 2006. The court ruled then that Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and other cigarette companies had suppressed internal documents, information and research, as part of a broad campaign to deliberately deceive the American people about smoking’s health effects, nicotine addiction, manipulating cigarette design to increase addiction, light- and low-tar cigarettes and marketing to youth. As a result, the court ordered the companies to provide public access to all documents they turned over in all smoking-and-health lawsuits in the United States for the next 15 years, through online document websites and through a hard-copy archive known as the Minnesota Depository.
The agreement today resolves a longstanding dispute over certain obligations the tobacco companies have with respect to these online databases. The agreement requires Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds to pay a total of $6.25 million into a court fund over the next four years. The court fund will turn the money over to the University of California - San Francisco (UCSF), which runs the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu . The UCSF collection went online in 2000, and provides Internet access to more than 13 million internal tobacco company documents, many of them originally revealed during lawsuits against individual tobacco companies. Researchers have published hundreds of peer-reviewed articles about the tobacco industry’s actions and internal knowledge, based on documents uncovered in the UCSF collection. The money UCSF receives under this proposal will be used to improve access to and the functionality of its online database of tobacco documents.
“To prevent future wrongdoing, the court ordered the tobacco companies to make all documents they disclosed in certain types of lawsuits publicly available for the next 15 years and to pay more than $6 million to maintain the document database,” said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. “This agreement helps make sure that these documents will be accessible to researchers, journalists, students, lawyers, the government and the public at large – anyone who is interested in learning more about the defendants’ efforts to mislead consumers about the effects of smoking.”
The proposed consent order will not become final until it is reviewed and signed by the court.
Trial Attorneys Daniel Crane-Hirsch and Josh Burke of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch represented the United States.