In a bright courtroom on a cold wintery Wednesday in the District, lawyers gathered in before Judge Gladys Kessler to discuss the proposed settlement of Big Tobacco’s violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Despite lawyers for the Tobacco Companies expressing expectations of a ‘pat on the back’ for finally reaching an agreement on a case that began with a complaint filed in 1999, Judge Kessler raised several concerns about the agreement, including whether it ignores an extremely important segment of the population; one that was directly targeted by Tobacco advertisements: Minority Consumers.
“The tobacco epidemic was initiated and has been sustained by the aggressive strategies of the tobacco industry, which has deliberately misled the public on the risks of smoking cigarettes.”
Big Tobacco will be required to purchase advertisements and make statements to remedy fraudulent statements told to the American public on the dangers of smoking. The settlement sets forth the style, font, size, placement, and duration of “corrective statements” that tobacco companies will be required publish in specific newspapers listed in the Remedial Order, the online version of those newspapers, the three major television networks, and covered websites.
The tobacco industry spends millions of dollars each day encouraging Americans to buy their products. Several products, included menthol cigarettes, are specifically marketed towards racial and ethnic minorities. If Black Media is excluded from settlement considerations, there is a significant chance that Black Americans, who overwhelmingly (81 percent) believe that advertisements that run on Black Media are more relevant to their lives, will continue to be misinformed on the dangers of smoking.
By the start of Wednesday’s hearing, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Fox Broadcasting Company had filed motions asking to participate as amicus curiae.
It is no surprise that the Tobacco Companies object, saying these requests come too late in the process to be considered. All parties expressed a desire for finality and moving forward with the proceeding. But even while Tobacco threatened that changing the terms of the agreement would result in delay as the parties renegotiate additional terms, Tobacco planned their next appeal.
Judge Kessler invited the parties to respond to her concerns with written comments that must be filed with the court by 4PM on Tuesday, February 18th.
- Jacqueline Clary is the John W. Jones Fellow at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. In this position, she focuses on a variety of policy issues to advance minority participation in the media and telecommunications industries. Ms. Clary earned her B.A. from John Carroll University, her J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law, and is a member of the New York State Bar.