Negotiator of '98 Deal Weighs New Tobacco Ruling

Mike Moore, the former attorney general of Mississippi, weighs a judge's ruling that tobacco companies used deceptive marketing practices. Moore was a lead negotiator in the 1998 settlement between Big Tobacco and the states.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Cigarette companies illegally conspired to profit from a lethal addictive product. That's the long-awaited ruling this week from Washington, D.C. federal Judge Gladys Kessler. She had harsh words for the industry's manipulative practices and put new restrictions on the way cigarettes can be marketed. But Judge Kessler said the law did not allow her to impose financial penalties on cigarette makers.

To make sense of the ruling, we turn to Mike Moore, former attorney general of Mississippi, the first state to sue the tobacco industry. He was key negotiator in the 1998 tobacco settlement with states. I asked him who won?

Mr. MIKE MOORE (Former Attorney General, Mississippi): Well, I don't know don't how to make sense exactly who won. Obviously, the government won their case. If you begin to read the 1700-plus pages of Judge Kessler's order, it's a wonderful recitation of the history of the tobacco industry and all the wrongdoing they've done for the last 50 years, probably as well written as I've seen anything. But as far as the remedies are concerned, she, I guess, believes that she was very limited in what she could do.

You know, most times when you have a lawsuit, you sue and recover a lot of money. In this case, there won't be any money, for example, for a $10 billion prevention and cessation program, and won't be any money for the Medicare program or any of the government programs where people are treated for, you know, the healthcare costs of tobacco. So from that standpoint it's a great disappointment.

ELLIOTT: Judge Kessler has told the companies that they have to admit their activities over the past 50 years in television advertising, on package onserts on cigarette packs. What do you think that will accomplish? Don't you think that by now, over the past 10 years in this public debate, that smokers know that smoking is bad for them?

Mr. MOORE: I think most of them do. I think that the real way to impact smoking rates is to do it environmentally with the clean air laws across the country more and more states are passing. And primarily I think the way to do it is to work with young children. If we can prevent kids from ever starting to smoke, then we can lick this problem. The problem with that is, is it takes huge amounts of money. This industry has almost doubled the amount that they spend on marketing and advertising their product since we resolved our case with them.

It's just amazing the billions of dollars that they spend. And then we have a few, you know, hundred million across the country that we're spending on anti-tobacco messages. It's really not much of a fair fight. So this money that the Justice Department was trying to get - the $10 billion campaign prevention/cessation program - would have been a real big help. And my worry is, is that the tobacco has, again, the upper hand.

ELLIOTT: This was the last really big threat to the tobacco industry in terms of litigation in the U.S. Where do you think the tobacco litigation battle against tobacco is going from here?

Mr. MOORE: The new frontier, I think, is foreign countries. I think you're going to start seeing more and more cases in foreign countries across the world. Canada, I think, has a great shot. British Columbia and other provinces have a great case. It's been to their Supreme Court and come back down. I think you'll see in other continents efforts to take on the tobacco industry before they get as strong a hold as they have in this country. And hopefully something will happen in Asia, because the smoking rates there are just unbelievably high.

So hopefully this will be - you know, folks will read this decision and say, see there, now the federal courts have said that the tobacco industry lied and cheated and stole all these years, and, you know, here's a roadmap on how to go after them. And maybe people will use Judge Kessler's order as an example of how to catch them.

ELLIOTT: Mike Moore is the former attorney general in Mississippi. We spoke with him from Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson.

Thanks so much.

Mr. MOORE: Thank you.

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