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Firms Aim to Discredit Ex-FDA Chief

September 24, 2004|From Reuters

Cigarette makers Thursday tried to portray former Food and Drug Administration chief David Kessler as a publicity seeker out to get the industry when he took the stand as the first witness in the government's $280-billion racketeering suit.

Kessler, FDA commissioner from 1990 to 1997, called for possible regulation of nicotine as a drug in 1994 and helped shape the Clinton administration's tough line with the industry, including the current suit.

But a lawyer for Brown & Williamson tried to discredit Kessler's testimony about an FDA probe that found growing evidence the tobacco industry was manipulating the level of nicotine in cigarettes to maintain the addiction of smokers.

"This was ... a personal agenda that you had" to regulate tobacco, Brown & Williamson attorney David Bernick said in cross-examining Kessler.

"I don't think that's fair to say," replied Kessler, now dean of the UC San Francisco School of Medicine.

He is not related to U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, the judge who is hearing the case.

Bernick presented evidence that the FDA had discussed the possibility of regulating cigarettes as a drug since 1991.

But Bernick said it wasn't until three years later -- after the industry was hit by charges in the media that it had manipulated nicotine levels -- that Kessler decided to act.

The 1999 lawsuit launched under President Clinton targets Altria Group Inc. and its Philip Morris USA unit; Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco unit, which has a tracking stock, Carolina Group; Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group; Reynolds American Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco unit; and British American Tobacco unit British American Tobacco Investments Ltd.

Brown & Williamson, formerly a unit of British American Tobacco, was acquired by Reynolds in July.

The government alleges that the firms conspired to mislead the public about the dangers of smoking since the 1950s. It is seeking forfeiture of $280 billion in past profits plus tougher rules on advertising and more warnings on tobacco products.

The companies deny the government allegations and say they have drastically changed their marketing practices since 1998, when they signed a landmark settlement with state attorneys general that severely restricts marketing and subjects cigarette makers to oversight.

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