A split in tobacco's defenses Liggett settlement: Company's admissions are only one step on a long road.

March 25, 1997

THE ANNOUNCEMENT that a tobacco company has broken ranks with the industry and agreed to acknowledge that smoking is addictive and causes cancer is dramatic enough. But the part of the settlement reached by 22 states with the Liggett Group Inc. that may prove most threatening to the rest of the industry involves Liggett's admission that some tobacco marketing has been directed toward minors. This charge is one that tobacco officials have steadfastly denied, even under oath in congressional hearings.

Pitching tobacco to young people has become a pivotal issue in the anti-smoking movement because most long-time smoking habits are formed at a young age -- and habits formed early generally prove especially difficult to break. Since states outlaw sales of tobacco products to minors, proving that tobacco companies consciously target young people would be a severe blow to their image. Such a finding would undoubtedly boost efforts to give the Food and Drug Administration regulatory power over tobacco products.

The settlement also provides that the 22 states, including Maryland, will receive a portion of Liggett's profits as compensation for the added health care costs they incur from smoking-related illnesses among their citizens. The amount is not expected to be significant, since Liggett has been facing financial difficulties.

Even so, the precedent has set off alarms among the four larger tobacco companies, which have already won an injunction against the settlement's provision that Liggett will share key documents relating to industry practices and claims. At this point, the biggest winners in this agreement will be the lawyers on each side, who will be exceedingly busy for the foreseeable future. Eventually, when the legal arguments play themselves out, we hope that Americans have a clearer picture of the effects of smoking -- and that young people are better protected from its dangers.

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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