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Judith Wilkenfeld, 64; lawyer challenged tobacco industry

June 25, 2007|Patricia Sullivan | Washington Post

Judith D. Wilkenfeld, an attorney who became one of the world's experts on legal issues related to tobacco policy, has died. She was 64.

Wilkenfeld died May 24 of pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington, D.C.

At the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Wilkenfeld sued tobacco companies, helped enforce federal policies and played a major role in the negotiation of the international Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

She was the FTC's lead attorney in the case against Brown & Williamson Tobacco in 1985, the lawsuit that was a catalyst for the first major expose about ways tobacco companies manipulate their products to deceive the public.

She was also the lead attorney in the 1990 case brought by the federal government against the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. that challenged tobacco industry advertising that disputed the health risks of smoking. She was instrumental in the FTC decision to sue R.J. Reynolds over the tobacco company's use of the cartoon character Joe Camel in its advertising and in crafting regulations governing health warnings on smokeless tobacco products.

In 1994, Wilkenfeld joined the FDA as special advisor for tobacco policy.

She left the government in 1999 to become vice president of international programs at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. For the next four years, she was a leader in negotiations of the world's first treaty devoted exclusively to a health issue. The Tobacco Treaty has been ratified by 147 nations, but not the United States.

"Too often in the past, our government has sided with the tobacco companies when they challenged other nations' tobacco control measures as violations of trade agreements," she said in 2005. "U.S. ratification of the treaty would send a strong message to the rest of the world that we will not support these efforts and instead put protection of public health ahead of tobacco industry interests."

Judith Plotkin was born in Washington and graduated from Pembroke College at Brown University and then from Indiana University School of Law in 1967.

In 1969, after two years on the Indiana University law faculty, she joined the National Labor Relations Board as a staff attorney in the appellate division, where she tried cases in most of the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals. She left the NLRB in 1977 and moved with her family to Israel, where she taught in the comparative law program at Hebrew University until the family's return to Washington two years later.

In 1980, Wilkenfeld joined the FTC, where for 14 years she was in charge of all tobacco-related matters for the agency and assistant director for advertising practices in the Bureau of Consumer Protection.

She is survived by her husband of 43 years, Jonathan Wilkenfeld of Washington; three children; three grandchildren; and a brother.

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