Tribes Sue Tobacco Industry

By Michelle Locke Associated Press Writer Friday, June 4, 1999

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- American Indians have filed a $1 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry, claiming they were unfairly excluded from the massive settlement reached by states.

``Once again in Indian country we have been left clear out of the process,'' said Wilfred Louie, one of several tribal officials who appeared at a news conference Thursday to discuss the class action federal suit filed on behalf of 20 tribes and pueblos.

The suit, filed Wednesday in San Francisco, demands $1 billion in compensation and punitive damages from several tobacco companies.

The suit stems from an agreement reached last November in which the tobacco industry promised to pay $40 billion over 25 years to settle four state lawsuits and another $206 billion in a broader deal with the other 46 states.

According to the suit, Indians were counted in census data used to determine how the money would be distributed but were not allotted their own share of the money. The suit claims that is a violation of Indian sovereignty and amounts to racial discrimination.

A spokesman for the tobacco industry said officials had not seen the suit and could not comment on its allegations.

Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, said the assumption that Indians won't benefit from the settlement is ``perhaps a premature conclusion, at least for California.''

According to the suit, Indians traditionally have used tobacco for ceremonial and medicinal purposes only. But during World War II, Indian soldiers were introduced to cigarettes and tobacco companies began targeting that population, the suit charges.

Today, American Indians smoke at a rate of 39 percent, compared to 26 percent for blacks, 25 percent for whites, 18 percent for Hispanics and 15 percent for Asians, the suit says.


Philip Morris, Others Sued by American Indian Tribes

San Francisco, June 3, 1999 (Bloomberg) -- Philip Morris Cos. and three other cigarette makers were sued by American Indian tribes that claim they've wrongly been excluded from the industry's $206 billion settlement with 46 U.S. states.

Philip Morris, RJR Nabisco Holdings Corp.'s U.S. tobacco unit, British American Tobacco Plc's Brown & Williamson affiliate, and Loews Corp.'s Lorillard tobacco unit are accused of violating the tribes' due process and civil rights by taking Indian populations into account in last year's settlement without awarding the tribes any funds.

The suit, filed yesterday in federal court in San Jose, seeks class-action status and more than $1 billion in damages. In addition, the tribes will ask for a court order that would prohibit the companies from distributing any settlement proceeds that should've gone to the tribes, said the tribes' lawyer, William Audet. ``There are serious flaws in the settlement agreement that we believe rise to the level of constitutional challenge,'' Audet said. Named as plaintiffs in the suit are dozens of American Indian tribes from California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington.

Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., the No. 2 U.S. cigarette maker, declined to comment on the suit, which is being transferred to federal court in San Francisco.

A spokesman for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., the nation's No. 3 maker of tobacco products, said the company hasn't seen the suit, though it believes the legal action is ``without merit.''

Loews couldn't immediately be reached for comment.


American Indians demand share of US tobacco settlement

By Andrew Quinn Reuters June 3, 1999

OAKLAND, Calif., June 3 Reuters - American Indian tribal leaders, angered at being left out of an historic tobacco settlement, said Thursday they are suing for a share of the $200 billion deal between 46 states and cigarette makers. The Native American Council for Tobacco Litigation, setting its sights on more than $1 billion in payments it says are due to American Indian groups, said last year's tobacco deal ignored the rights and interests of America's first inhabitants -- who were, after all, the first to cultivate the plant.

``Once again, we have been left out of the process,'' said Wilfred Louie, vice chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Colville in Washington state. ``But we are burying our people daily because of this.''

The American Indians' suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco late Wednesday, adds a new twist to the complex saga of American tobacco litigation.

As an immediate impact, bond experts said the suit could complicate plans by a number of state and local governments to sell bonds backed by tobacco settlement money.

``It's a major factor that has to be considered,'' Kevin Taylor, a municipal analyst at Prudential Securities Inc. in New York said. ``This is on par with the potential for Congress to claim part of the settlement.''

The suit's basic charge is that the tobacco settlement reached last November took into account the cost of smoking on American Indians, but allotted no compensation to any American Indian tribal governments -- violating the due process and civil rights of the American Indian tribes in 46 states.

The suit also alleged that the settlement constituted a direct assault on Indian tribes' right of self-determination and governance.

At a news conference at an Indian-run school in Oakland Thursday, tribal leaders from several states said that despite some of the highest smoking rates in the country, American Indians had seen no benefits from the tobacco agreement.

``It's time that we have a chance to have that revenue for ourselves. We have a right to our own settlement,'' said Demi Leonard, a tribal organizer and finance specialist who is chairman of the new Indian council on tobacco litigation.

The suit, which names Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., American Tobacco Co., Inc., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., B.A.T. Industries P.L.C., and Lorillard Tobacco Co., Inc., seeks more than $1 billion to help fight the spread of tobacco addiction in American Indian communities.

``Native Americans have been targeted as tobacco consumers,'' Bill Audet, a lawyer for the tribes, said. ``There was simply no legal, political or moral justification for failing to include the tribes in the settlement process.''

The Indians' suit was greeted with a shrug in the offices of Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, a key negotiator for the settlement.

Gregoire's spokesman, Fred Olson, said all citizens of the state were taken into consideration in making the deal, and that money from the state's settlement will be used for a tobacco prevention and control fund and health services plan to help residents living below the poverty level -- including some American Indian communities.

But the American Indian group said their community's special history with tobacco, which has long had historical and religious significance for many tribes, meant that they needed their own specific anti-tobacco abuse programs.

``Tobacco does play a very special and important part in Native American culture,'' said Bernie Teba, executive director of the Eight North Indian Pueblos Council of New Mexico.

``But when you abuse a gift, there are negative consequences .... We are killing our children.''