NEW YORK — Philip Morris Companies Inc. filed a $10-billion lawsuit against ABC Thursday, accusing the TV network of libel in an investigation of the cigarette industry on its prime-time newsmagazine "Day One."
In a two-part series on cigarettes that aired in February and March, "Day One" said that the tobacco company "artificially spiked" cigarettes with nicotine "in order to keep people smoking."
"Philip Morris does not in any way, shape or form spike its cigarettes with nicotine," Murray Bring, senior vice president of Philip Morris, told a news conference. "These allegations are not true, and ABC knows that they are not true."
ABC News responded with a statement saying that it "stands by its reporting on this issue."
The lawsuit, filed in Virginia Circuit Court in Richmond, Va., where Philip Morris has cigarette-manufacturing operations, names "Day One" reporter John Martin and producer Walt Bogdanich as defendants along with ABC.
Bring said that contrary to ABC's report, the cigarette manufacturing process actually reduces the level of nicotine by about 20% to 25%. He said that the amount of nicotine in cigarettes has declined more than 50% over the past 40 years.
Bring said that following the ABC reports on Feb. 28 and March 7, Philip Morris' stock price "declined dramatically" and members of Congress called for investigations into the cigarette-manufacturing processes. Philip Morris is the nation's largest cigarette company.
Earlier this month, David Kessler, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, raised the possibility of designating nicotine as a drug, which could lead to FDA regulation of tobacco products.
"We do not think the FDA has or should assert jurisdiction in this area," Bring said. Tobacco products aren't foods, drugs or cosmetics, the only products the agency regulates, he said.
"Nicotine as used in cigarettes is not a drug," he said. "It's a natural element found in the plant itself."
The House Energy and Commerce Committee's health subcommittee was scheduled to hold a hearing today on regulating the tobacco industry.
Philip Morris' suit seeks $5 billion in compensatory damages and $5 billion in punitive damages for "the false and defamatory statements contained in 'Day One's' broadcasts (that) were made knowingly, recklessly and with malice," the company said in a prepared statement.
Times wire services contributed to this report.