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This morning, the United States filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., against the major cigarette companies. In the complaint, the United States alleges that for the past 45 years, the companies that manufacture and sell tobacco have waged an intentional, coordinated campaign of fraud and deceit. As we allege in the complaint, it has been a campaign designed to preserve their enormous profits whatever the cost -- in human lives, human suffering, and in medical resources. The consequences have been staggering: Each year, 400,000 Americans die from smoking cigarettes. And, as a result, each year the federal government -- alone -- spends more than $20 billion dollars in taxpayer money just to treat diseases caused by cigarettes.

Last December, after an extensive review by Justice Department lawyers, I concluded there was a sufficient basis to prepare a litigation plan against the major tobacco companies. And for the last months, lawyers on the Justice Department's Tobacco Litigation Team have worked to develop the facts and the law to make a final decision on whether to proceed. Today, we are moving forward.

Today, we filed a lawsuit that seeks to recover from the tobacco companies the billions of dollars that American taxpayers spend each year on smoke-related illnesses.

As millions of cigarette smokers have gone into the hospital for lung cancer or emphysema, the American taxpayer has footed the bill. And over the years, that bill has added up. Today -- on behalf of the taxpayer -- we are asking the tobacco companies to pay their fair share.

The companies named in today's complaint have long dominated the market for cigarettes in the United States. And, over the last five decades, as discussed in the complaint, they have conducted themselves without regard to the truth, without regard to the law, and without regard to the health and life of the American people.

Internal documents that have come to light in recent years demonstrate that the cigarette companies have known more than they let on....

  • They knew far better than the rest of us that smoking increases the risk of disease and death;
  • They knew that nicotine is extremely addictive,
  • They knew that the success of their business depends on inducing new customers -- typically under 18 years of age -- to become hooked on nicotine. That's why they targeted our youth, and that's why every day nearly 3,000 young people take up smoking.

As our complaint also asserts, the cigarette companies realized -- since at least 1953 -- that the truth poses a mortal threat to their businesses. Rather than divulging what they knew to be true, the companies sought to convince the American public of their concern for the public's well-being. As our complaint makes clear, at no time did they honor that commitment. Instead, at every turn, they denied that smoking causes disease and denied that it is addictive. As the complaint alleges, they placed profits above the public health.

Our goals in this lawsuit are simple:

  • We want to recover health care expenditures paid out by the federal government to treat tobacco-related illnesses;
  • We want to require the tobacco companies to disgorge the funds that they earned through their unlawful conduct;
  • We want to require the tobacco companies, once and for all, to disclose all relevant research on smoking and health; and
  • We want to engage in counter-advertising and other public education campaigns to better warn our young people about the dangers of smoking.

I pledge today that we will work tirelessly to ensure that justice is done.

I now want to introduce David W. Ogden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, who will discuss the lawsuit in greater detail.